|Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 311 (R).(Photo by: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)|
The many contradictions of Mahmoud Abbas
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Conflicting messages on policy, unity, reelections, peace talks and a third intifada have confused Palestinians.
Seven years have passed since Mahmoud Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat
as president of the Palestinian Authority, and many Palestinians appear to be as
confused as ever regarding their leader’s true intentions.
Abbas ran in
the January 2005 presidential election for a four-year term on a platform that
promised massive reforms and changes both in the PA and the ruling Fatah
faction, which he also heads.
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But a year later, when most Palestinians
realized that Abbas was not serious about ending corruption and reforming the PA
and Fatah, they voted in favor of Hamas in a parliamentary
Hamas succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of many
Palestinians mainly because it ran under the banner of “Change and Reform.”
Hamas literally promised the Palestinians the same things that Abbas has pledged
to fulfill in his election campaign.
Top Fatah officials have held Abbas
personally responsible for the failure of their faction in the January 2006
Some have even gone as far as claiming that Abbas
had deliberately sought the defeat of Fatah because of a personal grudge he
holds against many senior officials.
Abbas is also held responsible for
the PA collapse in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.
complaint against him is that he had ordered his men to surrender to Hamas and
Instead of focusing on reforming Fatah in the aftermath of its
humiliating defeat in the parliamentary election, Abbas chose to seek ways to
topple the Hamas regime – a move that backfired and further bolstered the
Islamist movement’s stature.
Some Fatah and Hamas leaders hold Abbas
personally responsible for the fact that the Palestinians have been left with
separate entities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the end, the
Palestinians achieved the two-state solution, Abbas’s critics say.
the failure of the peace process with Israel has undermined Abbas’s standing
among many Palestinians. But that’s surely not the main reason why many
Palestinians have lost their faith in him and his leadership.
years, Abbas has managed to confuse many Palestinians by sending contradictory
messages to them and the rest of the world.
For instance, he has promised
not to run in another presidential election, which are projected to be held in
May this year. But now his aides are saying that the 76-year-old Abbas is
Fatah’s only candidate, indicating that he will seek another term in
And although he has repeatedly declared over the past two years
that the Palestinians would not resume direct negotiations with Israel unless
the Israeli government froze all construction in the settlements [and east
Jerusalem] and accepted the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state
solution, he has now agreed to hold talks in Jordan between PLO representatives
and Israeli officials.
Abbas has also confused his people regarding the
issue of reconciliation and unity with Hamas.
Initially, Abbas’s position
was that he would never launch talks with Hamas unless the movement ended its
control over the Gaza Strip. But later he changed his position and agreed to
talk to Hamas without demanding that the PA and Fatah be permitted to return to
the Gaza Strip.
Last year, Abbas announced that he and Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal had reached an agreement to end the dispute between the two sides
and “open a new page” in their relations. But at the same time that Abbas was
talking about reconciliation and unity, his security forces continued to detain
Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
The Palestinians hear a lot of talk
about reconciliation, unity and ending divisions in the Palestinian arena, but
on the ground they see measures that suggest otherwise. They see Abbas’s
security forces cracking down on Hamas activists and they also see Hamas taking
similar measures against Fatah officials.
Abbas’s moves in the
international arena have also left Palestinians confused.
for Palestinian membership in the UN last September, Abbas made it known that if
the statehood bid fails, he would either resign or dismantle the PA. But now
that the statehood bid has failed, he does not seem to have any intention to
carry out his threats.
Abbas’s talk about a third intifada has also
baffled many of his constituents. On the one hand, he has emphasized his
opposition to a third intifada, arguing that he remains committed to the path of
peaceful negotiations with Israel. On the other hand, Abbas has recently been
talking about a “popular intifada” similar to the uprising that erupted in 1987,
when Palestinians relied mostly on stones and firebombs to attack IDF soldiers
and Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
With such an approach, it’s hard to
see how Abbas or his Fatah faction could win the confidence of the Palestinian
majority when and if the next elections are held in four months from now.