Palestinian Affairs: Touted as traitors

Abbas and his 'moderate' colleagues are now trying to salvage what's left of their credibility.

abbas mubarak 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
abbas mubarak 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The IDF's Cast Lead offensive in the Gaza Strip may have severely harmed Hamas's military capabilities and weakened its tight grip on the area, but it has also further undermined the credibility of the "moderate," pro-Western Arab regimes. Many of the "moderate" Arab leaders, including the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas, were not afraid to alienate the Arab street by blaming Hamas for the latest cycle of violence. Some of them are even reported to have gone as far as quietly urging Israel to pursue its military operation until Hamas is removed from power. Since the beginning of the operation, the Arab media have been full of reports suggesting that Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz had all given Israel a "green light" to attack Gaza. Apart from seriously embarrassing these Arab leaders, the reports have also sent hundreds of thousands of Arab protesters to the streets to condemn not Israel, but what they regard as their governments' involvement in the "US-Zionist conspiracy" to remove Hamas from power. The widespread protests are seen by some Arab political analysts as marking the beginning of a popular "intifada" against corrupt, pro-Western Arab dictators. They expect these protests to intensify as the IDF operation continues and the number of Palestinian casualties rises. "The radicals among the Arabs have succeeded in igniting a popular intifada against the failed Arab rulers, thanks to the Israeli war," said Dr. Issam Nu'man, a respected Lebanese political commentator. "The war has exposed the partnership among Arab regimes, Israel and the US." Most of the heat on the Arab street is directed against Mubarak and Abbas - the only two leaders who had the courage to blame Hamas for the war because of its continued rocket attacks on Israel. Walid Tabtabai, an Islamist member of the Kuwaiti parliament who took off his shoe and waved it in the air, while hurling curses at Abbas, is being hailed throughout the Arab world as a hero. Other members of the parliament called on their government to ban the "traitor" Abbas from entering the country. Several members of the Jordanian parliament, in an unprecedented move, burned the Israeli flag inside the chamber, and called on King Abdullah to expel the Israeli ambassador. At least 20,000 Palestinians and Jordanians staged a huge demonstration in Amman, during which they chanted slogans against Israel, the US and Arab leaders, especially Mubarak and Abbas. Mubarak is being attacked for allegedly giving Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni a "green light" to wipe out Hamas during their meeting in Cairo 48 hours before the IDF operation was launched. The Arabs are particularly angry with him for allowing Livni to stand in front of media representatives in the Egyptian capital and issue threats to crush Hamas. "What would have happened if a Palestinian leader had issued threats to eliminate Israel from the heart of the Egyptian capital?" asked Abdel Bari Atawan, editor of the London-based Palestinian daily Al-Kuds al-Arabi. "It would have been the end of the world." Mubarak, who is currently facing growing opposition on the streets of Cairo, is also being accused of participating in the Israeli blockade on Gaza by refusing to reopen the Rafah border crossing. His declared policy, that the border crossing won't be reopened until Abbas's loyalists are permitted to return to the terminal, has further enraged many Palestinians, Egyptians and Arabs. This anger was reflected in a fiery speech given by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who called on the Egyptians to overthrow Mubarak's regime. "Mubarak has become the number one enemy of the Arab masses," commented a Palestinian newspaper editor in Ramallah. "President Mahmoud Abbas is also in big trouble, because he's being portrayed as someone who supported the Israeli attack so that he could return to the Gaza Strip." THE INCITEMENT against Mubarak and Abbas in the Arab media is likely to intensify as Al-Jazeera continues to broadcast horrific images of dead women and children in Gaza. As in the past, it is now spearheading a campaign aimed at discrediting "moderate" Arab rulers, by depicting them as pawns in the hands of the Israelis and Americans. The message that Al-Jazeera is sending to the Arab and Islamic masses is: "You must rise against your treacherous leaders, because they are serving the interests of Israel and the US." During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Al-Jazeera and many Arab media outlets also waged a campaign against the Arab leaders, accusing them of "collusion" with Israel. Fortunately for those leaders, that war did not last too long. Moreover, it was regarded as a campaign against Hizbullah alone, while the current offensive is being seen as an attempt to punish the Palestinians for having voted for Hamas. Operation Cast Lead will not wipe out Hamas completely, even if it results in the demolition of all of the Islamist movement's government buildings and security installations. On the contrary, the operation, by all accounts, is likely to boost Hamas's popularity not only among the Palestinians, but also on the streets of Khartoum, Amman, Cairo and Beirut. Ironically, the offensive has already undermined the standing of the "moderate" regimes and leaders in the Arab world by making them appear as if they are on Israel's side. By seeking to ban the protests on the Arab street, these leaders have only drawn more fire from their constituents and the Arab media. Mubarak, Abbas and King Abdullah II tried unsuccessfully over the past week to prevent the protests from spreading. The Jordanian monarch even went as far as asking his intelligence chief to step down for failing to stop the demonstrations. In Ramallah, Abbas and his aides are busy trying to convince the Palestinians and the Arab world that they have no plans to return to Gaza "aboard Israeli tanks," and that they never gave their blessing to the Israeli operation. But the damage has already been done. Abbas, along with the rest of his "moderate" colleagues, is now trying to salvage what's left of his credibility. Clearly, he doesn't have much time, since his term in office expires next week, leaving the Palestinians with only one freely-elected, legitimate government - the Hamas regime. After January 9, Abbas is likely to come under heavy pressure to step down not only from Hamas, but also from many people in his Fatah faction who accuse him of being a failed leader and who hold him responsible for the fact that Hamas is in power in Gaza. The talk about a "third intifada" that would be directed this time against the Arab rulers appears to be gaining momentum on the Arab street, where many people are no longer afraid to openly condemn their leaders as "traitors" and "Israeli puppets." The Arab street is ready for a third intifada, said Palestinian writer Rashad Abu Shawar. "Those Arabs who are exonerating Israel and blaming Hamas are being regarded as traitors," he said. "This week, we already saw the spark of the third intifada on the streets of Ramallah, Hebron, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as inside Israel. These Arab regimes want to see Gaza surrender, so that they can eliminate the term 'resistance' from their lexicon. The third intifada won't only finish off the PA; it will also destroy the illusion of peace with the Israeli enemy."