The many contradictions of Mahmoud Abbas

Conflicting messages on policy, unity, reelections, peace talks and a third intifada have confused Palestinians.

By
January 10, 2012 02:50
4 minute read.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

 
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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 election.

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 parliamentary election.

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.



The main complaint against him is that he had ordered his men to surrender to Hamas and flee.

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.

True, 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.

In recent 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 office.

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.

Before applying 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.

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