Saturday, May 28

President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Americans

President Mahmoud Abbas(Abu Mazen) has made his trip to the U.S. amidst quite a lot of fanfare and hype. President George Bush had been giving him friendly backslaps and heaps of praise. Bush sees him as a reformer and man of peace whose chances of pulling off a peace agreement with Israel is good. His stakes are good in the U.S in comparison to Yasser Arafat with whom Bush had refused to meet.

Bush promised Mahmoud Abbas 50 million dollars as starters for getting the Palestinian act together for rebuilding. The atmosphere during the visit was congenial, and optimistic. Bush did say, however, that Mahmoud Abbas should do more to fight terror.

Mahmoud Abbas claims that he is unable to fight terror successfully because the Israelis are not supplying him with the means. They have destroyed the Palestinian Security Force infrastructure by not allowing them to arm sufficiently.

It is a matter of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Anyway, history does have a habit of repeating itself. If Palestinian Police are armed and given the opportunity to control and disarm terrorists, there is a possibility that many may leave the service and cooperate with terrorists. This had happened in the past prior to the beginning of the intifada of 2000.

On the other hand, it would not be in Abu Mazen's interests if the Israelis show signs of supporting him. If Israel is too supportive, this could play into the hands of Hamas who will use this as propaganda against Abu Mazen. Hamas will receive further indication that Abu Mazen is an Israeli lackey (many Palestinian extremists see him as such). This will erode Abu Mazen's power even further. The same applies to the U.S. The Palestinian President is walking a tight rope between reaching an agreement with Hamas and their allied terror groups and the U.S. and Israel. It is true that Abu Mazen had received overwhelming support in the January elections. However, this being the Middle East, where things can change at the click of a finger, his support can diminish considerably if he does not reach some form of agreement with Hamas who are showing signs of increasing their support.

What seems clear is that the Palestinian People have had enough of corruption in government and in local municipalities. Hamas, with its ideology and social structures, have been successful in garnering Palestinian support against Fatah whose record of accomplishment against corruption is poor. The Palestinians see Hamas as a clean organization that promises to deliver the goods to their supporters.

It would not be in Israel's interested or that of the U.S. to interfere in the dynamics of Palestinian electioneering by showing open support for Abu Mazen. It will boomerang and serve the interests of Hamas. As it is, U.S. and Israeli credibility is not high in the Palestinian camp.

The U.S has paid lip service to democratic elections in the Palestinian Areas. This being so, they should not show any preference towards one candidate or another. If Hamas does win, dynamics for negotiations with Israel could begin. There are signs that Hamas is not as homogeneous in practice as most think. There are Hamas leaders who are beginning to show some signs of pragmatism. At this stage, it is still too early to speculate that with certainty. Nothing in the Middle East is predictable with any accuracy.

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