Jan 14 2005

Abu Mazen’s greater jihad

Published by at 3:40 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

I participated in the Palestinian presidential elections very early on Jan. 9. I drove to the village of Anata just outside the municipal borders of Jerusalem, showed them my ID card, got my right hand thumb inked and was given a ballot which I used to cast my vote.

The ink, which some claimed could be easily removed, has stayed on my thumb for a week. Not that it bothered me. Instead, I used it as a badge of honour, showing it off to relatives and friends in Amman and even in Beirut.

I believe that Jan. 9 will be as important for the Palestinians as Sept. 11 was for Americans. It will be remembered as the date which has legally and popularly ushered in a new political era for Palestinians.

The results Mahmoud Abbas accomplished (both in votes received and turnout) confirm his important political role in the post-Arafat era.  Palestinians have been hailing this date as a festival of democracy.

Many praised the tenacity and persistence of the many Palestinians insisting on voting despite the occupation and the checkpoints (in spite of the false claims by Israel that it would ease restrictions). While visiting Lebanon this week, I met with Talal Salman, the editor of the left-wing daily As-Safir. I found him, like many other Arabs, to be very impressed with how Palestinians handled themselves during the elections.

Abu Mazen’s era will clearly be a challenging one. I was impressed by his statement during the victory speech, in which he said that the small jihad is over and now the greater jihad is upon us. I was waiting to see if Fox TV or William Safire will pounce on Abu Mazen without even knowing what is meant by this statement. In Islam, the smaller jihad is the military jihad against the enemies of God, while the greater jihad (or struggle) is the internal jihad. By running and winning the elections on a platform of non violence and against military acts, Abu Mazen has, in his own eyes, overcome the smaller jihad and has promoted himself to the much more difficult, greater, jihad. It is the difficult soul searching in which you have to struggle with yourself.

I am sure that the greater jihad for Abu Mazen will mean having to decide in favour of the greater interest of the Palestinian people. That decision could come sooner than many people think. Abbas’ next steps will be to secure a firm ceasefire agreement, which for the Palestinians will mean a stoppage of attacks against Israelis.

There are at least two things in favour of Abu Mazen’s efforts to produce an effective quiet from the Islamists. His strong victory on a high turnout has made it clear that the vast majority of Palestinians support his political platform. It is very important to note that during the election campaign Abbas refused to back down on his demands for an end to the militarisation of the Intifada, and refused to apologise for his criticism of the rocket attacks. Noticing the high turnout and the strong mandate that he got, some of the Islamic leaders began publicly casting doubt on the validity of the elections. But a senior Hamas leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, rejected these calls by saying on television that Hamas respects the results of the elections and the will of the Palestinian people.

Another item in favour of Abu Mazen is the carrot of the legislative elections. The elections for the next Palestinian parliament, now scheduled for July, is very attractive to the Islamic groups, especially Hamas. They have already encouraged all their supporters to register and did reasonably well in the first leg of the local elections. The result of these elections has whetted their political appetite and they seem poised to participate in full force in the elections this summer.

Many things can happen between now and July, and they are not all within the abilities of the Palestinian leadership. Provocations in the form of further Israeli assassinations or incursions can easily turn a period of quiet on the part of the Palestinians into violence. Splinter groups might also want to mess up any understanding reached between Abu Mazen and the Islamic groups. While these groups might go along with Abbas in talking about a ceasefire, it might take a long time before they officially commit themselves.

A deadline for clear answers will most probably be demanded by Abu Mazen and his aides negotiating with the Islamic groups. The tolerance level will certainly be close to zero after such a date elapses.

If Abu Mazen’s efforts at producing a reasonable period of quiet begins to fail, this will be the time that his inner soul will be challenged.

Will he be able to stay neutral if the Islamic and radical militants violate understandings or will he find enough inner strength (the greater jihad) to do what is in the supreme interest of the Palestinian people, even if it means having to be tough with the militants?

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