by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
Mahmoud Abbas is entering his 14th year as leader of the Palestinian Authority. At the outset, both the West and his own people saw him as the ideal leader, a reformer who would get the parties back to the negotiating table and usher in the longed-for two state solution. Today, after alienating the West and the Arab world as well, the vast majority of Palestinians believe it is long past time for him to hand the reins to someone else. However, his decline from diplomatic darling to bureaucratic tyrant should not come as a surprise.
When Yasser Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly in 1974, he appeared before that august body in military fatigues, a silent testimony to the man he really was. Though many world leaders praised him as a man of peace, and despite the fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, Arafat’s approach to peacemaking always involved an olive branch in one hand and a gun in the other. The second Bush administration repeatedly called him out as a terrorist and an impediment to peace, not a catalyst. One of his most profound contributions to the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the First Intifada, which resulted in over 1,000 dead and thousands more injured, not to mention the additional thousand or so Arabs who were deemed Israeli collaborators and murdered at Arafat’s order.
Although he was lauded by many as the “father of Palestine,” Arafat’s militant stance did little to improve the situation for the Palestinian people, and when he died in November of 2004, the world was ready for a change. The West wanted to see an end to the violence that had marked his tenure. For the Palestinians, without Arafat’s “armed struggle,” their national movement lacked purpose and direction. The New Yorker called it a “liberation movement that’s not doing much liberating.” That longed-for leadership change appeared in the person of Mahmoud Abbas who was elected to fill Arafat’s position in January of 2005. Abbas was known as a mild-mannered diplomat and came to power because of his ability to ease tensions with the Arab world and pursue diplomatic channels that would make the Palestinian dream of statehood a reality.
Abbas quickly won the hearts of Western leaders by pledging to make peace with Israel through public diplomacy and non-violence. In his inaugural address, he stated, “I say to all Israeli leaders and to the Israeli people: we are two peoples destined to live side-by-side, to share this land between us.”
However, Abbas was no more able to deliver on the Palestinian dream than Arafat had been. He may have helped to underpin the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, particularly in the West, according to the New Yorker, but his approach has failed to bring the Palestinian people any closer to successful peace negotiations, changing the status quo, or attracting popular support to revive the movement’s declining fortunes.
In other words, according to the Palestinian on the street, his government has been inept, remote, self-serving—a failure. He was elected for only a four-year term yet continues to rule 13 years later. The median age among Palestinians is 20, and to those young and discouraged men and women, Abbas and his cronies look like a dismal past. Of the 18-member Palestinian Central Committee, only one is under 50. And it doesn’t help that Abbas lives very well with an estimated personal worth of $100M which causes many to believe that his government is also marked by corruption. Further, he has recently issued a cyber-crime law making it an offense punishable by imprisonment to publish any news that in any way reflects negatively on the Palestinian state or its government officials. He has also created a Constitutional Court that circumvents the Palestinian High Court and is answerable only to him.
Although Abbas would blame all of his failures on the Israeli “occupation,” many young Palestinians today would say instead that power has corrupted Abbas. Dr. Rafael Medoff suggests, however, that we should have known all along if we had paid attention to Abbas’ history and rhetoric.
Today’s international leaders hold degrees in a variety of fields such as law, economics, philosophy, criminal science, even dentistry. However, Medoff points out,
of all the educational credentials earned by the leaders of today’s global community, Abbas takes the prize for the most unusual. Although he began with a law degree from the University of Damascus, he went on to receive a Ph.D. from Moscow State University. His dissertation was titled, “The Other Side: The Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement,” likely making him the only world leader in history to have a doctorate in Holocaust denial.
Not only does that dissertation accuse Israel’s founding fathers of being Nazi collaborators, hoping for more dead Jews to provide stronger positions at the negotiating table at the end of the war, but it also places the number of Holocaust victims at “only a few hundred thousand.” And his denial does not end with the Holocaust, it also takes aim at Jewish history. The dissertation disputes the claim that a Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and claims an archaeological conspiracy is out to vindicate the Israeli myth that Israelis have an ancient connection to Jerusalem. He claims the Palestinian people predate Abraham and invented the alphabet 6,000 years ago. The Jews are, Abbas said, inventing history.
Dr. Medoff posits that anyone with such a twisted view of history would have no foundation for real negotiation and his interactions with Israelis would be fundamentally based on anti-Semitic beliefs.
Regardless of the reasons, Abbas has failed in his mission to establish a Palestinian state through any means and has become a bureaucratic tyrant who is vociferous in his hatred of America. He has alienated his own people and a large part of the Arab world as well. As his rule comes to an end, many fear he has created an environment in which the Palestinians will embrace a more volatile successor similar to Yasser Arafat. And that won’t be good for anyone.
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