April 27, 2003


Something has happened to Ariel Sharon (Ari Shavit, 4/24/03, Ha'aretz)
A few days before Pesach, Israel's prime minister gave the country's citizens the finest of holiday gifts: hope. Predictably, some local commentators - who tend to become excited at every new statement by every Arab despot who rearticulates his call for Israel's annihilation - were quick to dismiss what the prime minister of Israel said. Predictably, some local commentators - who are ready to adopt and embrace every deceptive formula adduced by the Palestinians - were quick to reach the conclusion that Ariel Sharon is once again being deceptive. However, the majority of Israel's citizens, in common with the majority of the world's observers, read the prime minister's remarks as they should be read: cautiously but with interest; suspiciously but with hope.

Ariel Sharon has earned the suspicious attitude people have toward him honestly. On countless occasions during the 50 years in which he has taken an active part in forging Israel's fate, he has behaved with a cleverness that borders on craftiness. His ability to equivocate has led him to the greatest of achievements and the harshest of debacles. However, even people who did not see the expression on the face of the old fighter when he said what he did about Beit El and Shiloh could discern that this was no hollow statement. Even those who did not hear the tone of voice of the master of the settlement project when he took leave of the terraced valleys of the land of the tribe of Benjamin could understand that this was not just another stratagem. Something has happened to Ariel Sharon. The guile is the same guile but the discourse is new.

No, Sharon has not moved to the left. But he has internalized a large part of the left's arguments about the futility of the occupation. No, Sharon has not become Yitzhak Rabin. But he feels the same weighty generational responsibility that Rabin felt in the early 1990s. No, Sharon does not accept the map put forward by Ehud Barak - to him, it was and remains a suicide map - but he is well aware of the historical and strategic context within which Barak acted.

Bye-bye, Yasser: Analysis (Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post)
"This is a silent coup," a top Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah said shortly after an agreement was reached between PA Chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) over the composition of a new cabinet.

Efforts to replace Arafat or sideline him started shortly after Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield last spring. Abbas and a handful of PA officials seized the opportunity provided by Arafat's being under siege in his Ramallah compound and held a series of closed-door meetings to discuss the new situation resulting from the IDF's reoccupation of the West Bank.

Arafat aides described the gathering as a coup d' tat. One of the alleged conspirators, former cabinet minister Nabil Amr, was the target of a shooting attack on his home. Abbas, who understood the message, hastily left the West Bank.

Almost a year later, Abbas has made a comeback that in effect turns him into the new leader of the Palestinian people.

The consensus in Ramallah Wednesday was that the biggest loser in the cabinet crisis was Arafat, who was forced to relinquish his grip over the dozen
or so security forces that he helped establish since the Olso process began.

Last year Arafat, also under immense pressure from the US and EU, reluctantly agreed to cede control exclusive control over the PA's finances by naming Salaam Fayad as finance minister.

Fayad has since gone a long way in reorganizing the PA's finances. He has even set aside a modest budget for the president's office, depriving Arafat of control over the millions of dollars donated by the US and EU.

Last month, international pressure forced Arafat to end his 40-year autocratic rule and to accept the idea of sharing power with a prime minister.

As different as chalk and cheese (Danny Rubinstein, 4/27/03, Ha'aretz)
The power struggle between Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) can be regarded as another stage in the democratization of Palestinian political life. There was no violence between the two competing for positions of power. There were elements of typical leadership struggles in which a senior leader (Arafat) doesn't want to cede power.

In neighboring Arab countries, one practically doesn't see relatively restrained, publicly reported power struggles for the leadership as took place in the Palestinian Authority in the last two weeks. Some of those states are kingdoms but even among the republics a new form of government, "a republican kingdom," has evolved, meaning a republic that is ruled by heirs, as in a monarchy.

The best known example is Syria, where Hafez Assad left the regime to his son Bashar. The same system was supposed to take place in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the political gossip in the Arab world speculates that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is grooming his son for the presidency. Political scientists have even come up with an Arabic word for it, "Jamalochia," combining jamariya (republic) with monarchy. Quite a few Palestinians say that if Arafat had a son, he would have been the candidate to replace him.

Despite the publicity given to the power struggle between Arafat and Abu Mazen, most of the struggle actually took place in secret. Most of the reports about what has going on in the various meetings were quite limited in scope, and there was limited coverage of the events in the Arab and international press, while the Palestinian press practically ignored it and published very few and mostly partial items about it. The Palestinian political culture prefers to keep such matters modest. The rival camps also made, relatively speaking, very little use of the media.

There are major differences between the two men. There was the senior leader, Arafat, the "founding father" of Palestinian nationalism, known popularly by a host of adoring names. More than anything, he is a symbol of the struggle, embodying and personifying the national aspirations. When he arrived in Gaza in 1994 to build the PA, there were those who wrote in the Palestinian press, "The sun of Arafat is shining down on the homeland." Arafat is the man without a private life, who lives in his office, surrounded by his loyalists and without a normal family life. Everything is for the Palestinian cause.

On the other side is Abu Mazen, the complete opposite. Introverted, without a band of loyalists, rarely consults, a man of no glamour and nearly without any of the ambitions that usually turns someone into Number 1. He has private business affairs and a solid family life, though most of the family is overseas.

A man in his prime (Yossi Klein, Ha'aretz)
It's not easy to draw a portrait of a refugee, because by definition, a refugee changes according to where he is. Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, who is about to become the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, is first of all a refugee and then a pragmatist. Abu Mazen--whose first-born son, Mazen, an engineer, died a year ago at the age of 42 in Qatar of a heart ailment - has gone through many places in the course of his 68 years. Like every refugee, Abu Mazen also carries his birthplace, Safed, in his memory. As a pragmatist, though, he knows where to draw the line that separates nostalgia, which attracts him to the city, and reality, which prevents him from even visiting it.

The status of refugee is an important biographical detail in the life history of a Palestinian politician, but pragmatism can define him as a Palestinian leader. Like every refugee, Abu Mazen has many stations in his life: Damascus, where he fled with his family, studied at the university (law) and taught in elementary school; Moscow, where he submitted his doctoral thesis, which dealt with the Holocaust, and more specifically with the connection between Nazism and Zionism; Tunis, where he resided as one of the leaders of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization; Qatar, where his family ran its business; and Abu Dhabi, where his daughter-in-law and his grandson live today.

Abu Mazen continues to travel between Gaza and Ramallah, in both of which he has homes, as befits the divided character of the state he is going to administer, and in addition, he has a house in Morocco, for the sake of the security that a refugee searches for all his life

Dahlan: Setting an ex-terrorist to stop terrorists (Erik Schechter, Jerusalem Post)
In an ideal world, the former Gazan chief of the Preventive Security Service would be sitting (once again) in an Israeli prison. But Israelis hope that Muhammad Dahlan's designation as the state minister for security affairs will help stem Palestinian terrorism.

Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) had originally sought to install Dahlan as his interior minister to take charge of the PA security forces and rein in Palestinian violence. However, Dahlan's newly crafted position is said to give him similar powers.

"After the series of bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 1996, Dahlan was very effective in fighting Hamas and its infrastructure," said Uri Savir,
former Foreign Ministry director-general and current head of the Peres Center for Peace.

"I am quite sure that Abu Mazen has an interest in ending terrorism and violence and the interior minister was a key post for doing that," Savir told The Jerusalem Post. "I believe that Dahlan and Abu Mazen have a shared understanding on security."

Dahlan resigned as head of the Gaza PSS in July 2002 with the hopes of becoming interior minister a move which instead landed him a job as Arafat's national security adviser. Last October, he quit that post as well, taking the opportunity to criticize the use of arms by Palestinians during the so-called Aksa intifada.

The London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported Dahlan saying that, after September 11, "we should have turned it into a popular intifada and stopped the armed activity, but we didn't, because we don't have the courage, as a leadership, to do so."

Dahlan also criticized the "extremism" of the Palestinian political position, noting by contrast that prime minister David Ben-Gurion had accepted UN Resolution 181 in 1947, even though it did not include the Old City of Jerusalem within the boundaries of the Jewish state.

Analysis: `The Americans won' (Danny Rubinstein, 4/24/03, Ha'aretz)
An East Jerusalem journalist, asked last night who won, replied: "Neither Arafat nor Abu Mazen. The Americans won."

It's very possible that answer is an accurate reflection of Palestinian public opinion, which did not seem bothered by the struggle of the titans, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), at the top over the past few weeks.

The Palestinian street witnessed powerful international forces, led by the United States, using enormous pressure to see Abu Mazen made prime minister, with Mohammed Dahlan in charge of security. The Americans brought in the Europeans and their loyalists in the Arab world for the purpose, headed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has a lot of influence over Arafat and his people, and they managed to dictate the composition of the government to the Palestinians.

Abbas's burden of proof (Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post)
There was a distinct feeling of deja vu from 1994 in the air this week. Back then, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak saved the international community from embarrassment by physically forcing Yasser Arafat to sign the Gaza-Jericho agreement on live television. This week, Mubarak sent the commander of his intelligence service to repeat the performance. General Omar Sulieman came to Ramallah on Tuesday and literally forced Arafat to meet with his deputy, Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, and accept Abbas's cabinet.

As in 1994, the US and Europe heaved a collective sigh of relief at Egypt's manhandling of Arafat. The question is whether Arafat's seeming capitulation now will prove as fraudulent as his behavior then.

When last June US President George W. Bush called on the Palestinian people to reject the regime of PLO chief Arafat and to elect leaders "not compromised by terror," he underscored the necessity of a complete overhaul of the way the Palestinians perceive their national identity. No longer could the Palestinians conceive of their nationalism as something that must necessarily supplant Jewish nationalism in order to reach fruition. Rather, a new group of leaders was called on to rise up who would understand that the realization of Palestinian aspirations can come about only after the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist as the Jewish state.

Today, responding to British pressure, the Bush administration stands poised to preside over new talks between the Israeli government and the PLO under the nascent leadership of Abbas, Arafat's deputy of four decades. The announced aim of these talks is the speedy establishment of a Palestinian state.

But before any such talks begin it is vital that all concerned parties, but especially Israel, pause a moment and consider the reason for Oslo's abject failure.
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2003 11:11 PM
Comments for this post are closed.