Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a presidential decree that elections will be held in January. This followed his decision to sign the Egyptian plan for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, knowing that Hamas would refuse to sign.
Abbas is demonstrating decisive leadership. After 20 years, he convened the Fatah conference that even Yasser Arafat feared would fragment the movement and destroy the struggle for national liberation. The conference ended in relative unity behind Abbas. With the exception of the blunder - from the Palestinian point of view - of briefly withdrawing the Goldstone report from the UN Human Rights Council, Abbas's popularity is higher than that of any other Palestinian personality.
Abbas is not a man of the people. He lacks charisma. He does not do well on the streets, working the crowd. He doesn't like to go into villages and meet the common people. He doesn't seek the photo-ops that most politicians go out of their way to create. He doesn't like being interviewed. He is much more comfortable within the confines of his Mukata headquarters in Ramallah. A relative of his told me that his favorite pastime is watching National Geographic nature films.
Israelis, politicians, journalists and Middle East analysts love to state that Abbas is weak. They say he lacks control outside the confines of his headquarters. The evidence they provide is that he lost Gaza to Hamas. Their conclusion is that we still lack a partner for peace on the Palestinian side.
These same people argued that we never really had a partner. They complained that Arafat played a double game of peacemaking on the one hand and terrorism on the other - Arafat's own metaphor of the olive branch in one hand and the gun in the other. They said there would not be peace until the Palestinians are led by statesmen and not revolutionary leaders.
Abbas is a statesman, yet Israeli leaders like Ariel Sharon described him as "a chick with no feathers" - apparently a reference to the conclusion that the man will never fly or have the support of his people.
With this humiliating description in hand, Sharon refused to negotiate with Abbas, and instead went forward with the unilateral disengagement that helped empower Hamas's claim that it forced Israel out of Gaza, while fanning the flames of anti-Israel sentiment that led to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.
MAHMOUD ABBAS is a leader, a strong leader, and he continues to prove this through his actions and words. He is dedicated to leading his people to statehood, liberation and peace. He opposed the militarization of the second intifada, and with great political courage stated during his first campaign for president in December 2004: "It is important to keep the uprising away from arms because the uprising is a legitimate right of the people to express their rejection of the occupation by popular and social means. Using weapons is harmful and has got to stop."
In February 8, 2005, less than a month after being elected following the death of Arafat, he spoke of "our adherence to the peace process points of reference, the resolutions of international legitimacy, the agreements signed between the PLO and the government of Israel and the road map. I stress our eagerness to honor and implement all our obligations. We will not spare any possible effort to protect this new chance for peace, which has been made possible by what we announced here today."
In November 27, 2007 in Annapolis he said, "I say to the citizens of Israel, in this extraordinary day, you, our neighbors on this small land, neither us nor you are begging for peace from each other. It is a common interest for us and for you. Peace and freedom is a right to us, inasmuch as peace and security is a right for you and for us."
More recently in the UN on September 22, he said, "I would like to affirm the following: Any Palestinian future government will abide by the past commitments of the PLO and the PNA in terms of agreements, especially the letters of mutual recognition dated September 9, 1993, between the two late big figures Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. These two letters include mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, denounce violence and adopt negotiations as a means to achieve a permanent solution based on the establishment of the independent state of Palestine next to the state of Israel."
ABBAS HAS implemented almost all the Palestinian obligations under the road map (Israel has not implemented any of its obligations). Abbas has consolidated the security forces and placed them under the full command of the political echelon that he and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad, control. He fired hundreds of officers who had militarized the intifada. He has worked hand-in-hand with US Gen. Keith Dayton in the training and deployment of a young generation of professional security personnel. He has reestablished law and order in the West Bank.
He has dismantled the infrastructure of Hamas and Islamic Jihad throughout the West Bank. He has closed Hamas and Jihad institutions, charitable associations, schools and terror cells. He has replaced Hamas and Jihad clergy in mosques all around the West Bank. His Palestinian Authority controls the content of the sermons in mosques all around the West Bank. He has removed the blatant incitement against Israel from the national television station. He has arrested hundreds of Hamas operatives, who are now sitting in Palestinian Authority prisons. He has refused to give in to public pressure pushing him toward reconciliation with Hamas under almost any terms.
He has demonstrated leadership time and time again. It is time to stop saying Abbas is weak. Abbas is perhaps the best Palestinian partner we could ever hope for. No, he is not a Zionist, and no, he will not adopt Israel's positions in negotiations. He will stand by his decision to bring the Goldstone report to the United Nations, against fierce Israeli pressure.
He is a Palestinian leader, not an agent of Israel. He will demand Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and he will demand that the refugee issue be negotiated and not conceded prior to negotiations.
Abbas is a partner for peace. Is Binyamin Netanyahu?
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org).