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Listen to What He's Saying

By Michael Freund
2/1/2005, 12:00 AM

Palestinians go to the polls next week to elect a successor to Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, and the excitement among international observers couldn’t be more palpable.

Take, for example, former US Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross, who writes gushingly in the Washington Post, “Something is stirring in Gaza. There is a sense of hope and possibility, a belief that it is time for a change. And there is a new discourse that includes all Palestinian factions and an open questioning of violence.”

Ross, and others like him, are unwittingly violating rule number one of international diplomacy: allowing wishful thinking to cloud one’s judgment and take the place of rational policy-making.

In the past few days, the leading candidate to replace Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), has made it clear that he intends to follow his predecessor’s route.

Just yesterday, on a campaign stop in Jenin, Abbas “embraced Israel's most wanted man, Zacaria Zubeida, leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin, and accepted his protection,” notes the Guardian newspaper. Zubeida is being sought by Israel for organizing and planning numerous lethal terrorist attacks.

Then, in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Abbas made a series of revealing remarks that indicate he is no man of peace by a long stretch. Asked to explain why he continues to appear at election rallies with armed Palestinian gunmen involved in anti-Israel terror, Abbas said, “When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them,” asserting that the Palestinians have “a debt” to these killers of Israelis and that he would act “to protect them”.

Abu_mazen_with_gunmen Later in the day, Abbas attended a rally in Gaza, which the AP described as follows: “When his convoy arrived, several hundred gunmen stopped his vehicle to greet their leader. Abbas got out of his car and waved to the ecstatic crowd. The gunmen, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group with ties to Abbas' ruling Fatah party, placed a black baseball cap on his head and briefly hoisted him on their shoulders. Chanting pro-Abbas slogans, they escorted him through the noisy crowd before he headed indoors to deliver a speech.”

In his speech to the crowd, Abbas had nothing but words of praise for those who commit murder and mayhem for a living: “We will not forget those wanted by Israel. These are the heroes that are fighting for freedom.”

If this is what Ross and others have in mind when they speak of a new “sense of hope and possibility”, then my advice is: batten down the hatches.

If “experts” such as Ross would only listen to what Abbas is saying, they might very well begin to understand just how misguided they are in their assessment of the situation.