In Ab­bas, Pales­tini­ans still lack­ing a champion for democ­racy.

Sadly, Pales­tini­ans have no champion of democ­racy

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Clif­ford D. May Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

One man, one vote, one time: In 2005, Mah­moud Ab­bas was elected to a four-year term as pres­i­dent of the Pales­tinian Author­ity. He hasn’t both­ered to run for re-elec­tion since. He also is pres­i­dent of Fatah, a po­lit­i­cal move­ment with past ties to ter­ror­ism and the dom­i­nant fac­tion within the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The PLO was founded in 1964 — three years be­fore Is­raelis were in Gaza or the West Bank. Mr. Ab­bas is chair­man of the PLO, too.

What all this means is that de­spite Mr. Ab­bas’ de­clin­ing pop­u­lar­ity — two-thirds of Pales­tini­ans would like him to re­sign, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll — no one has been able to suc­cess­fully chal­lenge his power on the West Bank.

And last week, at the Sev­enth Fatah Con­gress, held at the Muqata’a, his for­ti­fied head­quar­ters in Ra­mal­lah, Mr. Ab­bas fur­ther so­lid­i­fied his position. With mem­bers of ri­val fac­tions barred from at­tend­ing, and no other can­di­dates on the bal­lot, Mr. Ab­bas was hand­ily re-elected Fatah pres­i­dent. “Every­body voted yes,” Fatah spokesman Mah­moud Abu al-Hija as­sured re­porters who had not been per­mit­ted to wit­ness the event.

Mr. Ab­bas, who also goes by the nom de guerre, Abu Mazen, is 81 years old and not in sparkling good health. He has not named a suc­ces­sor. Nor has he shaped a process likely to lead to a peace­ful suc­ces­sion. Dim­itri Dil­iani, a mem­ber of Fatah’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Coun­cil, told Grant Rum­ley, a research fel­low at the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies who cov­ered the meet­ing: “We used to call Arafat a dic­ta­tor, but com­pared with Abu Mazen, Arafat was a champion of democ­racy.”

What does Mr. Ab­bas in­tend to do with the power he pos­sesses in the time he has re­main­ing? I think it’s clear that he doesn’t see him­self shak­ing hands with Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on the White House lawn. He un­der­stands only too well that a “two-state so­lu­tion” — mean­ing two states for two peo­ples peace­fully co­ex­ist­ing — would be un­ac­cept­able to many within Fatah and the PLO, and to ev­ery­one in Ha­mas, the Is­lamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbol­lah and, of course, the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran which, at least for now, is the ris­ing power in the Mid­dle East, a regime whose red lines you don’t cross with im­punity.

What Mr. Ab­bas wants in­stead is for a Pales­tinian state to be rec­og­nized at the United Na­tions in the ab­sence of a peace treaty with Is­rael. Would such a state in­clude Gaza un­der the rule of Ha­mas, a ji­hadist or­ga­ni­za­tion openly com­mit­ted to Is­rael’s ex­ter­mi­na­tion? How would such a state achieve eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity? Or is the plan to have it re­main de­pen­dent on the in­ter­na­tional “donor com­mu­nity” in­def­i­nitely? And, most con­se­quen­tially, who will pro­vide for its na­tional se­cu­rity?

Most of those who call them­selves pro-Pales­tinian fo­cus their at­ten­tion and anger on the fact that Is­raelis main­tain a pres­ence on the West Bank. They pre­tend not to com­pre­hend that were the Is­raelis to bug out to­mor­row, it would be only a mat­ter of time be­fore Ha­mas took over, prob­a­bly through vi­o­lence. On more than one oc­ca­sion, the Shin Bet, Is­rael’s in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ser­vice, has un­cov­ered Ha­mas cells plot­ting Mr. Ab­bas’ as­sas­si­na­tion.

In 2005, you’ll re­call, Is­raelis re­lin­quished Gaza. Two years later — two very bloody years later — Ha­mas estab­lished its con­trol. Would pu­ta­tive pro-Pales­tini­ans re­ally be con­tent to see Ra­mal­lah be­come like Gaza City? Or worse: With­out Is­raeli se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, who would prevent Ra­mal­lah from be­com­ing like Raqqa, Aleppo or Mo­sul?

The French are said to be work­ing on a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion that, I’ll wa­ger, will ig­nore such questions and in­stead de­mand con­crete con­ces­sions of the Is­raelis in re­turn for vague prom­ises by the Pales­tini­ans.

In the past, the United States has al­ways blocked such res­o­lu­tions. But Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, at a Sa­ban Fo­rum on Sun­day, im­plied that might not be the case if the res­o­lu­tion comes up for a vote dur­ing the fi­nal days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Why not? Be­cause Is­rael, he said, is “head­ing to a place of dan­ger” and needs “a bet­ter path to pur­sue.” And he has “spent a lot time look­ing at this thing.” (Does he sup­pose Mr. Ne­tanyahu has not?)

A fi­nal word about Mr. Ab­bas: At the Fatah Con­gress, he de­fended his at­ten­dance at the fu­neral of Shi­mon Peres, the for­mer Is­raeli pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter, as well as his de­ci­sion to send fire­fight­ers to help Is­raelis put out blazes, many of them set by an­tiIs­raeli ar­son­ists. “I am not sorry that I went to Pres­i­dent Peres’ fu­neral,” he said. “Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 70 na­tions par­tic­i­pated, and why not us? I’m also not sorry, and don’t need to apol­o­gize to any­one, for send­ing our fire­fight­ers to help our neigh­bors to put out the fire. I feel very strongly as neigh­bors this is a hu­man obli­ga­tion.”

But he could not bring him­self to ac­knowl­edge who those neigh­bors are: the Jewish na­tion; peo­ple who, as his­to­rian Barbara Tuch­man once pointed out, are liv­ing in the same land, speak­ing the same lan­guage and wor­ship­ping the same God as did their an­ces­tors 3,000 years ago.

It may be use­ful to re­call that in June 2002, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush of­fered a “vi­sion” of “two states, liv­ing side by side in peace and se­cu­rity.” But to achieve that, he said, would re­quire “a new and dif­fer­ent Pales­tinian lead­er­ship,” one will­ing to “em­brace democ­racy, con­front cor­rup­tion and firmly re­ject ter­ror.”

Al­most 15 years later, such a Pales­tinian lead­er­ship is not in place. That could change. But un­til it does, there’s no good al­ter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo, frus­trat­ing as that may be for those who seek peace or at least a process that could lead to that elu­sive desti­na­tion.


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