Friday, December 17, 2004

Abbas words of strength against violence 12-17-04

Abbas candidacy may be last chance for peace
Creators Syndicate Dec. 17, 2004
By Ray Hanania

Former Prime Minister and candidate for Palestine’s presidency has been saying all the right things. But will his words resonate among the growing extremism resulting from the continued Israeli occupation?

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was Palestine’s first prime minister until he bumped heads with the late President Yasir Arafat. Today, after Arafat’s death, Abbas is viewed as the leading candidate to take his place.

Abbas, who assumed Arafat's post as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, could go the popular route to insure an easy victory. Instead, he is taking the principled route of realism, a tougher road based on saying things that must be said but that often many do not want to hear.

This week, Abbas said that he was sorry for the support that many Palestinians gave to Saddam Hussein when Iraq invaded Kuwait. At that time, recognizing the deep dislike many Palestinians have for the Kuwaitis, Arafat had expressed solidarity with Saddam Hussein.

Arafat was taking the easy route, playing to the crowd rather than to the tougher road of principled reason. The Kuwaitis are the most anti-Palestinian of the Arab Gulf States. In contrast, Saddam Hussein was providing support funding to families of Palestinians killed by Israeli military occupation forces.

Not every Palestinian who is killed is a suicide bomber or a terrorist. Most are innocent civilians killed by Israeli attacks. Saddam Hussein’s money went to families that legitimately deserved the support when innocent members of their families were killed.

But money is not the answer to Palestine’s challenges. Nor is the Palestinian tendency to turn towards emotion rather than realism.

The next day, Abbas went further and said what most reasoned Palestinians have been afraid to say fearing retribution from Hamas and other violent extremists. Abbas declared the violence of this Intifada is wrong. In fact, Abbas said, the violence has undermined the Palestinian cause.

In an interview with a major Palestinian daily newspaper, Abbas said that Palestinians should resist the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza without resorting to violence.

Those are tough words from a man who is seeking to build a popular base to succeed Arafat as president in what is only the second major election in the nation’s history, scheduled for January 9.

While his views may cost him some voter support, they clearly distinguish him as the best hope for Palestinians to achieve peace based on a two-state solution.

His views show he has the courage to do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said, something rare not just in Palestinian politics but in the Arab World, too.

His comments were immediately brushed aside by a spokesman for Hamas, who claimed that the "consensus of the Palestinian people" supports violence as a response to Israeli policies.

And, his comments came in the wake of the first major violent attack against Israeli targets since Arafat’s death last month when Hamas militants killed five Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint at the Gaza-Egyptian border. It was a daring assault. The attackers dug the tunnel using their hands over a four month period.

The attack demonstrates that no matter Israel does, the extremists will find away around Israel’s policies as long as Israel continues to oppress Palestinians, kill civilians and confiscate Palestinian lands.

That is a powerful concept that makes many Palestinians believe that violence is the only way to respond to Israel own violent policies. And that becomes a tough challenge for Abbas.Can his words of non-violence win back the faith of the majority of Palestinians? Or, has the conflict become so brutal that all hope has been extinguished?

A key Hamas spokesman, Khaled Mashal, may have hinted at the answer when he said Hamas would end its attacks on Israeli targets "only with Palestinian consensus."

How else to judge consensus than through an election? And an Abbas victory would demonstrate Palestinian consensus in favor of non-violence and an end to the violent responses to Israeli aggression.

Hamas, however, cannot be trusted, especially since it is not official participating in the election. In the wake of Arafat’s death, popularity for Hamas and the use of violence in response to Israel’s brutal policies has increased among Palestinians.

Despite the murder by Israel of its most visible leaders, Hamas remains a strong organization founded on religious faith and an unwavering principle to reject compromise. Suicide bombings, which have turned world opinion against the Palestinian cause, remains a fundamental part of its military strategy, although it may become more creative.

Abbas offers the best hope for peace, and may be the alternative to Hamas. Abbas has a clear vision of a Palestinian State based on justice and non-violence. These next few weeks will be critical.

But everyone must recognize his courage in the face of an untenable situation aggravated not only by Palestinian extremism, but also by an Israeli government that has done little to encourage peace or Palestinian hope.

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