Many peace-seekers in the world – not just Israelis and Palestinians – are clinging to the hope that the Jan. 9 election in the Palestinian Authority will be a genuine turning point in the resolution of this terrible conflict. This democratic election to replace the late Yasser Arafat will afford the Palestinians their first real opportunity to take charge of their own destiny and forge peace with Israel. Unfortunately, all the signs indicate that this is not likely to happen.
There are now just seven candidates running for the PA presidency – down from 16 a short while ago. Most of them bowed out due to their inability to pay the $3,000 candidacy fee demanded by the PA Elections Committee, a sum about equal to an average Palestinian’s annual income. But there is only one serious candidate: Mahmoud Abbas, also known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mazen.
The one-time prime minister under Arafat and his successor as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Abbas is making all the right noises for public consumption to the gullible West. On Sunday, Dec. 5, for example, after meeting in Ramallah with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Abbas pledged to honor Arafat’s legacy by working to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
“The true fealty to Arafat’s memory would be to pursue his path to achieve Palestinian national goals, namely the establishment of a democratic state, with Jerusalem as its capital, that would live in peace and security next to Israel,” Abbas told reporters. He added that the Palestinians would fulfill their “international” obligations.
Fischer ate it up, acknowledging the importance of holding free and democratic elections and pledging the European Community would help the Palestinians achieve a smooth transition of power in the post-Arafat era. A touch of reality intruded when the German foreign minister also expressed the hope that “the Palestinian factions” (meaning terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad) would agree to a truce with Israel in the run-up to the election. Such a cease-fire, he said, could serve as a prelude and stimulus to attaining a just and lasting peace.
But not only has the PA under Abbas failed to impose a cease-fire on its terrorist factions, attacks against Israeli civilians in the northern Negev and Gaza Strip have actually increased since the election campaign began. There have been dozens of mortar and Kassam rocket attacks since the German foreign minister invited the Palestinians to demonstrate some goodwill.
Most of these almost daily attacks have been attributed to Hamas, which is boycotting the “national” PA elections, but which has just contested the first local elections in the Palestinian Authority since 1976. In its showdown with Abbas’ Fatah in 23 localities considered to be Fatah strongholds, Hamas won nine. Such a strong showing by the leader of the rejectionist front against a peace agreement with Israel indicates that an Abbas victory will be a hollow one – no matter how much wishful thinking is being devoted to depicting him as a moderate.
It should be common knowledge by now in dealing with the Middle East that the thing to listen to and believe is not what an Arab leader says in English for the consumption of gullible Western media and politicians, but what that leader says to his own people in Arabic. Most recently, Abbas performed the Palestinian moderate routine in Ramallah for German Foreign Minister Fischer. Two weeks later in Oman, however, Abbas told his hosts in Arabic that there would be no concessions to Israel on the so-called Palestinian “right of return” – a code word for destroying Israel by flooding it with Palestinians who have been kept by the Arab countries in refugee camps for nearly 60 years for this purpose.
Abbas has called for an end to the violence of the intifada – and even done so in Arabic – but the violence goes on. In addition to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Abbas’ own Fatah, has rejected his call for an end to armed attacks on Israel. If what Abbas says to his own people carries such little weight, how much of what he says to us should we believe?