Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Abu against Abu: Not Merely a Clash of Egos, but an Existential Question

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Abu against Abu: Not Merely a Clash of Egos, but an Existential Question

Article excerpt

The clash between Abu-1 and Abu-2-Abu Amar v. Abu Mazen-is not a personal matter, as it is presented by journalists in Israel and all over the world. Of course, the egos of the two personalities do play a role, as in all political fights. But the controversy itself goes much deeper. It reflects the unique situation of the Palestinian people.

An upper-class Palestinian defined it on Israeli television in late April as "the move from the culture of revolution to the culture of a state." Meaning: the Palestinian war of liberation has come to an end, and now the time has come to put the affairs of state in order. Therefore, Yasser Arafat (Abu Amar), who represents the first, must go, and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who represents the second, must take over.

No description could be further from reality. The Palestinian war of liberation is now at its height. Perhaps it has never been at a more critical stage. The Palestinians are faced with existential threats: ethnic cleansing (called in Israel "transfer") or imprisonment in powerless, Bantustan-style enclaves.

How has this illusion-that the national struggle is over and that the time has come to turn to administrative matters-arisen?

The situation of the Palestinian people is indeed unique. As far as I am aware, it has no parallel in history. Following the Oslo agreements, a kind of Palestinian mini-state came into being, consisting of several small enclaves on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These enclaves have to be administered. But the national Palestinian aim-a viable, independent state in all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem-is far from being attained. In order to achieve it, an arduous national struggle lies ahead.

Thus, two different-and contradictorystructures exist side by side: a national liberation movement requiring strong and authoritative leadership, and a mini-state that needs a regular, democratic and transparent administration.

Arafat represents the first. He is much more than a "symbol," as he is often described. He is a leader possessing an unequalled moral authority among his own people and vast experience in international affairs. He has steered the Palestinian national movement away from subjugation to Arab and international interests and led it from near oblivion to the threshold of independence.

Abu Mazen and his colleagues represent the second reality. They have no solid base among their own people, but do have connections with powerful players, most importantly the United States and Israel, with all that entails.

The debate between the two hinges on an assessment of the intifada. For two and a half years, the Palestinian people have been suffering immense losses: about 2,500 people killed, 10,000 disabled and injured, a whole stratum of young leaders wiped out, the economy destroyed, immense damage to property. Was this worthwhile? Can it continue?

Abu Mazen and his supporters say No. They believe that the whole fight was a mistake. Even before the present debate, Abu-Mazen called for the cessation of the "armed intifada." He believes that the Palestinians can achieve more in negotiations with the U.S. and in a political process with Israel. He relies on the mainstream Israeli peace movement and personalities like ex-Labor minister Yossi Beilin. …

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