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Abu Mazen and the Policy of Betting on Rationality
Last uploaded : Monday 25th Aug 2003 at 18:38
Contributed by : Hazem Saghiyeh


It is difficult to recall any images of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) in military uniform, or surrounded by any of the symbols and rituals that usually surround military officials and leaders of freedom movements. The man who ranked seventh among the Fatah historical leadership, and they are plentiful, can only be recalled as an ordinary person you could meet on a street or in an elevator. To those watching him, the ?message? he emanates is a very civil one, entwined with domestic features familiar in a father or uncle. He presents himself without artificial symbols, compared to fighters wearing fatigues or green military uniforms and long beards, creating for themselves a charisma that quite often turns out to be a non-charisma, in the opposite direction, as in the case with Yasser Arafat in particular. But Abu Mazen, much to his misfortune, does not only contradict freedom fighters, but also the military mentality that now dominates the leadership in Israel. Such mentality is reflected by General Ariel Sharon who, well-shaven and in military uniform, has been behind more than a bloody and brutal incident, and who is presently building a wall that will swallow half the area of the West Bank.

The Palestinian Prime Minister has moved too far away from struggle rituals, and exhibited an ?open mindedness? that is censured by struggle movements, as well as national armies which prefer fervor to reason. For by fervor alone is mobilization achieved and the imagination militarized. This, indeed, weakens a leader?s charisma, whatever shape it has, especially because a struggle requires a certain level of charisma that exceeds what is required by rational policies. When achievement is lacking, compensation should come in the form of lies and inflated promises that keep a leader in his position. Abu-Mazen, the reticent leader with no promises, is not the right man for a job like this one.

The man?s dilemma is compounded by the tragedy of his people, who have been subjected to collective punishment, accompanied by a mounting impoverishment and a quasi-systematical confiscation of land. His dilemma is further aggravated by the fact that the popular culture to which he belongs is not known for its love of forms of non-violent action. And even if it did wish to respond to Israeli violations with politics and institutions, it has a very poor tradition behind it to fall back on.

In spite of all this, it looks like Abbas bartered rituals, symbols and charisma for a simple life, void of mobilization, where the environment is more appropriate for institutions and individuals to act. We should not forget that the occupation and its resistance collaborated to neutralize the roles of the Palestinian elites and qualified persons, who have been sidetracked by violence and without whom no economic progress can take place and no investments shall be made. Even if independence were achieved in isolation from this role, it shall only be a transformation from a compulsory misery into a voluntary misery, samples of which we have seen in failed independent states. In this sense, the Abu-Mazen / Salaam Fayyad partnership may be more important on the long-run than Abu-Mazen?s present inescapable de-facto partnership with Mohammad Dahlan. Indeed, the Abu-Mazen politics finds support in a certain level of security, to compensate for its present weakness, as well as in an American policy that consists of pressure to make the ?Road Map? a success. But it is also based on betting on rationality. Rationality, in this case, starts functioning by reading the experiences of the Palestinian national action. Doubtlessly, Abu-Mazen has reviewed this violent experience whether outside, where it led to two civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon, or inside, where the difference between the two Intifadas is too vast to be ignored. The first Intifada, the ?peaceful? one, contributed to opening the gate for politics between Madrid and Oslo, and consequently to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The second, which resulted partially from the halt of Oslo process, or the shrinkage of politics, completed the closure of the gate, and the destruction of the Authority.

One tends to believe that the Prime Minister eyes with some admiration and envy the peace experiences of Anwar El Sadaat and King Hussein, and perhaps believes that it may have been fit and proper for the party concerned; the Palestinian, to establish this course. For Sadaat and Hussein did not only bring their countries out of war, but also gained significant popularity within the Israeli public opinion. Without indulging in self-deceit, and taking into consideration military power balance and the limited support that Arabs can provide to Palestinians, practically not orally, the Israeli public opinion is capable of being the most powerful weapon for their independence. For when the conflict is political, over what Abu-Mazen is calling for, this public opinion will represent an ally against all Israeli military?s narrow-minded and nationalists, while this same public opinion will turn, in the wake of suicide actions, into a sharp sword against Palestinians.

Calculations like these, and not only religious and moral incentives, are what instigated men like Ghandi and Martin Luther King to prefer non-violence facing the massive power of the British forces in India, or the veneration of the United States. They must have had the future in mind when they calculated the power balance; for achieving Indian independence through violence would have given birth to a totalitarian regime similar to that in the neighboring China, while achieving civil rights by force would have left an inheritance of hatred between blacks and whites, that would have dwarfed the hatreds of the Civil War.

Betting on the mind is betting on the future especially as September 11th has become a tremendous and unprecedented pressure. Perhaps, under the pressure of limited alternatives, Abu-Mazen recalled from the past what may help to move on into the future. He may have remembered, from his sojourn in Lebanon, a wise statement made by a Lebanese politician, who was not as wise in everything he had said: ?The strength of Lebanon lies in its weakness?. Uttered by Pierre Jemayel, this statement makes a good title for an approach that can be borrowed by militarily weaker factions, which can contribute in other areas what may compensate for its military weakness. He may have been exposed, during his stay in Tunis, to the ?graduality? that was connected to the name of the Tunisian independence establisher, Al Habib Bourguiba. Indeed, the Palestinian experience itself, despite its shortness and limited traditions, knew a politician like Ragheb al-Nashashibi and his Defa?a party (National Defense Party), who proclaimed this point of view at an early stage.

Will Abu Mazen succeed, in spite of everything, where others have failed?
Writer, commentator and columnist for the Arabic Newspaper al-Hayat in London, Hazem Saghiyeh has authored books on Pan-Arabism and Political Islam.

Jewish Comment is grateful to Common Ground News Service for copyright clearance.



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