Will Qureih Succeed Where Abbas Failed?

by Mamdouh Nofal on 16/09/2003

Ever since Mahmoud Abbas became Prime Minister end of April 2003 and right until he resigned on September 6, he was being exposed to strong American and Israeli pressures, some of which he submitted to, and others he refused. He has also disagreed with Arafat on many levels, and waged individual but major battles with most of the national and Islamic forces, the hardest being with his friends in the Fatah leadership, knowing that he contributed to the formation of this party more than 40 years ago. Throughout the four decades, Abbas remained the closest Fatah leader to Arafat, and he seldom disagreed with him. Some of the internal conflicts were quietly settled within Fatah, whether in the Legislative Council or the PLO’s executive committee, whereas most of them turned into internal crises that came out to the open and revealed to the people a conflict between the Presidency and the Prime Minister over power and prerogatives.

Despite his problems with his colleagues and Sharon’s aggression against him and his government, as well as his discomfort with the American stance, Abbas never thought of resigning from his position and settled with objecting his own way, as he resigned from Fatah’s central committee and abstained from attending the PLO’s executive meetings, not to mention that he stopped his visits to the Muqataa, where Arafat is staying. When Abbas asked the head of the Legislative Council, Ahmad Qureih, to hold a session as to assess the 100 days of his government’s work, it did not occur to him that he would find himself forced to resign, bidding the council an emotional and impressive goodbye.

On the morning of September 6, Abbas surprised everyone with his and his government’s resignation, avoiding hence participating in a violent battle with Fatah’s central committee. He was unable to meet with Arafat, so he sent him his resignation letter with the Minister of the Cabinet’s Affairs Yasser Abed Rabbo, after making sure that his longtime mate in the struggle had accused him behind his back of “betraying his confidence.” He was also sure that the protest, which welcomed him before the Legislative Council on September 4, was led by Fatah leaders and that those who yelled against him and against Minister Dahlan, accusing them of national betrayal, were pushed into this kind of behavior. Behind the scenes, Abbas clarified what he said in his resignation letter, pointing to the fact that he rushed into resigning because he feared that those who were determined to overthrow the government would “use legitimate and illegitimate means, including murders, following the insults and accusations of betrayal.”

On the other hand, Arafat did not expect Abbas to resign so soon. Although he knew that accepting this resignation and the collapse of the government would increase the aggression of both Americans and Israelis against him, he found himself racing time and forced to keep up with the challenge, as it was his responsibility and duty to defend the independence of the Palestinian decision, according to him. Hence, he accepted the resignation faster than it was even submitted.

Arafat did not think of reappointing Abbas, and that for several reasons: the enormous lack of trust between these two men, which is hard to be restored on such short notice; his deep knowledge of Abbas’ character and way of thinking, hence certainty that he would never take his resignation back and apologize in case he is reappointed; the delay in choosing a Prime Minister would make it easier for foreign forces to intervene in the Palestinian internal affairs, giving Sharon the opportunity to take advantage of the resignation against Arafat, the Authority, as well as against its security and civil bodies, not to mention that it would pave the way before intra-Fatah conflicts over the position of Prime Minister and hence complicate the choosing process.

In order to avoid chaos and confusion – before Israel made the decision to “fire” the Palestinian President – Arafat soon chose the substitute, basing his choice on his experience and acquaintance with the exact criteria and internal and external qualifications that should be provided in a Prime Minister. Hence, without further consideration, he appointed the head of the Legislative Council Ahmad Qureih, and proved his seriousness of his decision by submitting it to the concerned national and Fatah bodies; he got the acceptance in a matter of 24 hours. Qureih accepted the position and started making internal and external contacts as to form a new government.

Arafat has undoubtedly achieved more than one thing by choosing Qureih for Prime Minister: he mixed the cards and kept in his hand the initiative to rearrange them, so he proved his authority on the Palestinian scene, namely inside Fatah, closed Abbas’ government’s chapter with amazing fastness and chose the new candidate after some discussions; hence, he pushed the international, regional and Palestinian forces into overcoming the controversy of Abbas’ resignation, or expulsion, and forced them to look into ways of dealing with the new candidate. He asserted his determination on peace, and chose one of Oslo’s planners; he also blocked Sharon’s way and hindered a planned operation to marginalize him or reinvade Gaza and besiege Arafat’s office, destroying what has already been repaired.

Qurei will not face any trouble in getting the Legislative Council’s trust vote, not only because he is the head of that council and member of the Fatah central committee, but also because he came to solve a complicated and planned problem, which everyone, except for Sharon and his staff, is trying to settle. The “Palestinian forces” did not suspect the background of his appointment, the way they did when Abbas was about to become Prime Minister. This dispenses his government, during the first stage, from the battles that Abbas had to wage inside Fatah and on the Palestinian arena, not to mention that it forces Arafat to support him and not hinder his work. My relation with Qureih and his colleagues in the Fatah leadership encourages me to say, unhesitatingly, that Qureih is more flexible in dealing with Arafat, with the Fatah leaders and the Palestinian leaderships, as he is closer to the Palestinian scene and never lets his own mood come in the way of his relations with others. Moreover, he is more capable of making business and humanitarian relations with the Fatah cadres, as well as with the national organizations and institutions. These are qualities that help invest the national potential in a better way as to succeed in his government’s program and provide a popular base for his government, which Abbas did not have.

Furthermore, Qureih is also endowed with qualities that Abbas had, making it easy for him to enter both regional and international scenes: he is well known on Arab, American and Israeli levels, not to mention that he is accepted internationally. His presidency of the Legislative Council has given him a special aura that keeps him away from being accused of biasness, like Arafat is. He played a key role in the peace process and was one of the eminent implicit and explicit contributors in the Oslo Accords, as well as in the following Palestinian-Israeli agreements; his stances from the compromise and from the final negotiations are known. Hence, Sharon cannot accuse Qureih of radicalism and of supporting or encouraging terrorism, especially since he constantly refuses military action against Israel, saying that this period is over and that the suicide operations only enhance the Israeli radicalism and harm the high Palestinian interests. These qualifications ought to strengthen his position towards the U.S., the EU, Russia and Japan.

Regardless of the historical judgment on former Palestinian Premier, his short mandate had a special flavor. His experience will always be significant in the Fatah history and that of the Palestinian political regime. This period shrouded important morals and several lessons for everyone, some of which were mentioned in the resignation letter and in the goodbye speech before the Legislative Council; they ought to be quickly learned.

In his speech and letter, Abbas specified three main reasons for his resignation: the negative stance of Sharon’s government towards his government and its “eschewing from carrying out its commitments as well as keeping up its aggressive acts against Palestinians; the lack of a stronger international determination on implementing the Roadmap.” According to him, the third reason was represented in the conflict on prerogatives, and the fact that his government was exposed to the most hideous ways of provocation, disfiguring and humiliation, not to mention that even before it was formed and all through its mandate, it was hindered. While Abbas focused in the Legislative Council on the Palestinian pressure that wedged him, going deeper in the analysis proves that this conflict has political and organizational roots, and that the Bush administration is the first and last party responsible for the suffering of Abbas’ government. Abbas has never depended on Sharon’s good morals, as he kept relying on the American stance that would prevent him from proceeding with his aggressive policy against the Palestinian people, Authority and leadership. One of Abbas’ main mistakes was his discretion before his people regarding the perception that was made about the American stance from the Roadmap and from the Palestinian demands.

Qureih is surely taking over in highly complicated local and regional circumstances, and he knows more than anyone that his government depends on supporting Arafat in the first place, but also on supporting his colleagues in Fatah, as well as the rest of the national and Islamic forces. He was the one to say: “There is no point in forming a Palestinian government without American and European support.” Needless to say that any of these parties can hinder Qureih’s government and push it towards the same problem in which Abbas’ government fell and was trapped. The American administration is familiar with the required support, which is not only financial and moral, but also strong enough to control Sharon and his staff’s actions, considering that they are the only concerned party in the failure of Qureih, just like they were in that of Abbas. Personally, I am not optimistic about the American stance, and I think it would be better for Qureih to build his government’s orientations on a popular base: Sharon will give him nothing he did not offer to Abbas, and the Bush administration will enter in a battle with Israel that it did not wage during Abbas’ mandate.

Finally, when Abbas treated himself wrong and unfairly, he was also treated the same way by his brothers over and over again, as well as by all those who said that he was aching for power and holding on to his position as Prime Minister, accusing him of using the American-Israeli support against Arafat and his colleagues in the Fatah central committee, not to mention the national and Islamic forces? and they all ought to admit they were wrong.