Jan 14 2004

The shadow of Abu Mazen and the Need for Qurei to rethink his policies

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Five months after his resignation, the presence of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) can be felt in every corner of the office of the Palestinian prime minister.

No, Palestine ‘s first prime minister is not lurking around in Ramallah, he has long disappeared from the public eye. But his shadow, and to be more accurate the shadow of the circumstances that led to his resignation are looming larger than life.

Ever since he became prime minister, Ahmad Qurei vowed that he will not follow the path of Abu Mazen. He tried hard to work closely with the various groups that publicly expressed unhappiness with Abu Mazen’s policies. Among the groups he met were the young Fatah cadres, whom he promised to include in his senior cabinet posts and then had to back track. He also met with various Palestinian factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad to get them to agree on a more permanent cease-fire.

Ahmad Qurei also vowed not to follow his predecessors’ footsteps in as far as regular meetings with Ariel Sharon. Qurei stated that he is not in favor of photo opportunities and that he will only meet Sharon if such a meeting would produce results. For Qurei the results that he wanted changed. At one time he wanted the meeting to conclude a ceasefire agreement. He supported the talks in Cairo for a unified Palestinian stand, but these talks failed when the request of the guarantee for the safety of the leaders of the Palestinian organizations failed to materialize from either Israel or the US .

The new Palestinian prime minister also wanted Israel to freeze settlement activities, as stipulated in the road map, and to ease the checkpoints throughout the Palestinian territories. Again he failed in his efforts through his aides to obtain any promises from the Israelis that they would give him any of his requests.

Perhaps the most important request made by the new Palestinian leader was his insistence that the Israelis stop building the separation wall, which has taken up so much land and causes major disruption in Palestinian lives. All Ahmad Qurei had to do was look outside his home in the Jerusalem district of Abu Dis to realize the major problems this wall is causing to his own constituency.

Again Abu Ala’a, the new Palestinian prime minister struck out without any result. The Israelis who refused to heed the requests of the international community or even their strongest allies, the US , were not about to give up building the wall, in order to get to meet the new Palestinian prime minister.

With time it became clear that Ahmad Qurei had climbed a high tree and was unable to climb down. He was unable to deliver a promise of unilateral cessation of attacks on the Israelis nor was he able to vow to attack these Palestinian groups while the Israelis were not even engaging with him on any serious level.

The result of worrying so much about the problems that Abu Mazen faced, became a major obstacle for any meeting between the Palestinian and Israeli prime minister. The months of public rhetoric had left the Palestinian leader in a helpless situation. He was unwilling to follow the steps of Abu Mazen and meet with Sharon without any conditions or expectations, and at the same time he has no intention to either disappoint his public or to throw in the towel as Aby Mazen eventually did. Even efforts by the Americans and the Egyptians were unable to resolve this problem. Neither was able to promise or deliver any substance from the Israelis.

Feeling frustrated with the Israelis and the Americans, Abu Ala’a began to look for things he could do to change this losing formula he was facing. One idea that caught his fancy which had been circulated by some Palestinian intellectuals for some time was to talk about the single state for both peoples. This idea which clearly plays into the Israeli demographic fears, goes against everything that the Palestinian leadership and the international community has been working on, namely sharing the land rather than sharing the power. Without much preparation, Abu Ala’a threw this idea publicly and quickly pulled it back the next day because any logical thinker will understand that for it to become credible this idea carries with it the danger of the end of the Palestinian Authority.

There is no doubt that the separation wall and the intransigence of the Sharon government are causing major problems for the Palestinian leadership to find the most effective way forward. For all of its draw back, Abu Mazen’s idea was to engage the Israelis to the degree that through such intensive talks their opposition can be warned down. In the absence of any serious alternative and with the unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority to be ready to sacrifice its own existence, there doesn’t seem to be any other alternative for the new prime minister than to go back to the ways of his predecessor and hope for the best.

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