The Predicament of Abu Mazen

by Mamdouh Nofal on 02/05/2005

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) finds himself stuck between the modest and fair Palestinians demands and U.S.-supported Israeli rejection once again; exactly as happened in 2003 when he headed the first Palestinian government.

After Arafat’s passing, Sharon welcomed the election of Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA). At the time, the optimists on the Palestinian arena expected Sharon to be generous with Abbas, while I said that Sharon’s positive stance from Abbas would not last long. I was accused of rashness.

One hundred days into Abbas’s tenure, Sharon is talking much of Abbas’s weakness and leading a campaign against him, rather than appreciating his success in achieving a cease-fire and providing security. Sharon set Netanyahu, Shalom, and Mofaz loose on Abbas; they called him Arafat II, not the hoped-for partner, and incapable of fighting terrorism and stopping rockets from being launched on the Gaza Strip settlements.

Could Sharon and his aides’ statements be classified as a tactic to pit Bush against Abbas ahead of the latter’s visit to Washington, or are they part of a comprehensive geopolitical security strategy? What are the political consequences of this operation? The future of the peace process? The internal Palestinian situation, including Abbas’s role?

It is not always easy to recognize Sharon’s real intentions. While he talks of peace, he builds the wall, steals lands, and expands settlements in the Strip. He refuses to deal with Abbas as a partner, did not comply with the Sharm El-Sheikh agreements, backed down from measures he agreed to, etc…

I think the most optimistic of people cannot ignore the fact that such indications are worrisome. His negative stance from Abbas implies that it is about more than provoking the U.S. president and exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to fight terrorism, and Sharon’s statement before Bush that “Abbas’s failure and the fall of his rule is just a matter of time,” should be taken seriously. This speech is reminiscent of an earlier one that talked about getting rid of Arafat…

The Palestinian street and the ruling elite have the predominant belief that Bush and his aides, the Leftists (Perez, Beilin, and Sarid) are busy gathering support for Sharon. They are amazed by his “bold” step of withdrawal; no one cares about Abbas’s fate.

Consequently, whoever believes that Elliott Abrams and David Welch’s visit to the region changed Sharon’s positions. The results of their visit confirm that Sharon maintained his negative stance and the unilateral disengagement, and seeks to deep-root the idea of the non-existence of a Palestinian partner.

I believe that Sharon, to appease President Bush, would probably meet Abbas before he leaves for Washington. However, it is sure that he would not offer him something he did not offer Arafat.