Abbas Failed To Do the Honorable Thing

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Nations and organizations reward success. They elect and re-elect leaders who deliver and advance the interests of their constituency and they terminate the tenure of the failure, the incompetent and the corrupt. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to step down when he was investigated for alleged corruption, and for his mishandling of the war against Hizbullah. In February 2001, the Israelis booted Ehud Barak out of office because of his failure to deal with the Palestinians and replaced him with Ariel Sharon by the widest margin in Israeli history. President Jimmy Carter, who later was awarded the Noble Peace Prize, negotiated the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel but he lost the second term election to Ronald Reagan for his failed attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. President George H.W. Bush won the Gulf War but he lost the election to Bill Clinton for reneging on a campaign promise not to raise taxes. Tony Blair resigned both his leadership of the Labour Party and as Prime Minister for the low approval of his role in the Iraqi war.

Egypt and Israel but he lost the second term election to Ronald Reagan for his failed attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran. President George H.W. Bush won the Gulf War but he lost the election to Bill Clinton for reneging on a campaign promise not to raise taxes. Tony Blair resigned both his leadership of the Labour Party and as Prime Minister for the low approval of his role in the Iraqi war.

In contrast, Fatah did not show Mahmoud Abbas the door for his failure to name any tangible success. Fatah has rewarded failure and incompetence! It re-elected Abbas as its undisputed leader by unanimous vote even knowing he was the first to stage a coup against the first intifada leadership in 1993 and actively participated with the US and Israel in another coup to topple his mentor, Yassir Arafat, in 2004. And on his watch, the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem doubled, the separation wall was built, the daily life of the non-VIP Palestinians worsened and the occupied lands has been disintegrated and partitioned between Fatah and Hamas.

I will try to answer the following question: Who is the man enthusiastically re-elected by the 1,200 Fatah members to lead Fatah, treating him as a hero? No dissent!

Abbas was in Tunisia when the Palestinians felt powerless against the hardships of Israeli’s occupation and abandoned by the exiled PLO political leaders and the Arab states in 1987. Young Palestinians started protesting by demonstrations and engaging the IDF and the settlers with stones in the first intifada. The uprising of 1987 highlighted the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation and their willingness to die for their cause. It was estimated that more than 500 Palestinians died and 8,500 wounded only in the first two years of the intifada.

An important consequence of the uprising was the emergence of indigenous leadership in the occupied territory that would overshadow the exiled PLO in leading the Palestinians against the occupation. Unlike the PLO leaders who had been detached from the daily struggle of their constituents, the new leaders led the protest against the occupation and many were ex-prisoners in the Israeli security detention centers. The PLO standing in the occupied land had been diminished since it had done nothing following its ejection from Lebanon. Most of the Palestinians thought the PLO as indifferent to their suffering or ineffective in dealing with the Israelis. The PLO leaders including Mahmoud Abbas were perceived as just a bourgeois fraud group chauffeured in their limousines in Tunis or flying in private jets around the world away from the realities of the Israeli occupation.

The Israelis recognized that suppressing the uprising by force alone was unsustainable in the new international environment. The intifada caught the PLO establishment by surprise and it had to jump on the bandwagon of the uprising once it had been in progress.

After the US led 1991 Gulf war victory and liberated Kuwait, US Secretary of State, James Baker decided to exploit the newly established good relations with the governments in the region by trying to get the Arab to negotiate their historic disputes with Israel. The US held Madrid Conference to focus on the regional issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The venue of the Palestinian-Israeli bilateral talks was shifted to Washington D.C. The Washington negotiations on the Palestinian issue were held between non-PLO Palestinian delegation from the West Bank headed by Dr. Haider Abdul-Shafi and delegation from Israel headed by Eli Rubinstein. No significant progress was made in eleven meetings from Dec. 1991 through August 1993 even after the Likud coalition government lost to Labor ending its monopoly of ruling Israel since 1977. 

Labor won the Knesset election on a platform of negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians, and its leader Yitzhak Rabin wanted to have peace with the Palestinians but on his own terms that were not acceptable by Abdul-Shafi negotiators. The PLO leadership in Tunis asked Terje Rod Larsen from Oslo to explore the possibility of mediating between them and the Israelis. With the talks Abdul-Shafi in Washington reaching dead end, Shimon Peres decided to accept the Norwegians as facilitators rather than mediators for unofficial secret talks with the PLO. Shimon Peres wrote in his 1995 book “Battling for Peace” that “the incentives of allowing the exiled PLO leaders to return to Gaza from their exile and speak for the Palestinians would induce them to speed up the conclusion of the negotiations [read accept Israeli terms].” Since the Palestinian’s violence and the security of Israel were high on Rabin’s agenda, he accepted Peres argument in the belief that only the PLO had the power to control the Palestinian uprising and the militant Islamists and implement peace agreements favored by Israel.

Nicholas Guyatt wrote in his 1998 book, “the Absence of Peace”, to get the best deal, the Israelis chose to negotiate with the PLO leaders, who were eager to return to Palestine and establish themselves in what the Israelis call the “disputed territory”, rather than with the Abdel-Shafi inside Palestinian group who insisted on a commitment to unconditional end of occupation and “immediate and substantive withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank”. The PLO leaders and the Israelis allowed the talks in Washington to continue openly and under the cover of secrecy authorized the back channel talks in Oslo.

According to Andrew Buchanan, the negotiators in Washington under the leadership of Haidar Abdel-Shafi insisted on including East Jerusalem as part of the interim agreement and dismantling all settlements; they asked for a commitment by Israel to withdraw from all the territory occupied in the 1967 war. The Oslo team, on the other hand, was more receptive to the Israeli demands and conditions of postponing the talk on East Jerusalem and the settlements, prolonging the process and providing ambiguous promises. To insure that Israel would accept only the Oslo negotiations, the Tunis based PLO leaders including Abbas asked the Abdel-Shafi team to stand firm in demanding the inclusion of Jerusalem in the interim agreement while instructing the Oslo negotiators to accept Israel’s demand to exclude it.

Abdel-Shafi was quoted saying that he had heard of the Oslo negotiations for the first time while listening to the news on a hotel radio and preparing for his next meeting with the Israelis. He and his team felt the Palestinian people were betrayed by the PLO leadership of Tunisia which signed on a fatally flawed Oslo agreement on behalf of the Palestinians who had been living under occupation. Mahmoud Abbas, the architect of the Oslo agreement signed the twenty-three page “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government” (DOP) on behalf of the PLO in the White House Rose Garden before an audience that included President Clinton, Secretary Christopher and Russian Minister Andrei Kozyrev. The DOP consisted of a basic text, four annexes and agreed minutes, and the September 9-10 exchange of letters between Arafat and Rabin. The DOP that Abbas signed in effect was an agreement to reach agreement, leaving the future of the occupied lands to be negotiated between the parties with no restrictions on settlements and land confiscation or on Judaicising Jerusalem. The Oslo agreements aborted the five-year uprising that had achieved the Palestinians great success in the realm of the world opinion; and the slow death of the so called “two-state solution” started in 1993 when Mahmoud Abbas signed the DOP agreement.

And by early 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President George Bush decided to write off Arafat as a negotiating partner. They let it be known that Arafat was implicated in the intifada violence and demanded publicly for Arafat’s replacement or at a minimum to keep Arafat as a figure head and transfer the control of the Palestinian security force to an appointed prime minister who must be approved by the US and Israel. To that end, the US and Israel demanded that Arafat should appoint Abbas as a prime minister with a mandate to crackdown against the Palestinian resistance. Arafat reluctantly complied with the demand and appointed Abbas prime minister but he delegated him a role only to deal with the European Union on economic matters. Abbas demanded full control of the PA’s security services, but Arafat refused to have a diminished governing authority. His supporters demonstrated and some sent death threats against Prime Minister Abbas accusing him of being an Israeli agent. Realizing his new position untenable and risky, Abbas resigned his post. A year later, Arafat died, perhaps poisoned, and Fatah endorsed Abbas for the 2005 Palestinian presidential elections.

The Palestinian people in the occupied lands were divided whether to come to the US fold and vote for Abbas who offers very little to their national cause other than conditional financial aid from the US and the EU, or support the resistance to occupation at the risk of being stamped as terrorists. Since the Israelis had a vested interest in Abbas winning the elections because of his willingness to compromise on the main issues, they did everything to prevent his main rival, the leader of the democratic movement, Mustafa Barghouthy from campaigning freely and speak to the Palestinians. He was harassed, attacked physically at checkpoints and detained by the Israeli military many times. Stephen Lendman, a Chicago based advocate of justice for oppressed people wrote that “The Sharon government loved Abbas because he’d sell out his people for his own self-interest.” It is an act of hypocrisy and insincerity when Abbas keeps invoking the memory of the shahid (martyr) Yassir Arafat whose authority Abbas himself was used as a pawn by the US and Israel to undermine. Bush, who never concealed his happiness for Arafat death and the election of Abbas, invited Abbas to the White House and pledged millions of dollars in aid to the PA.

Abbas has other personal attributes that many people may not know. He has expensive taste for shoes. The daily Italian newspaper “Il Messagger” wrote in 2007 that Mahmoud Abbas is among a very small group of world-wide elites that include President Bush, the French President, the Spanish Monarch, the Russian President, the Japanese Prime Minister and other super-rich people. Members of this group buy “mokaseen” shoes that are made by “Fabi” company at a price of up to 20,000 Euro dollars per pair.

After five years of his leadership and scores of regular meetings with the Israelis, Abbas failed to provide security or economic growth, the settler population doubled; 10,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem; Palestinian farms and olive groves were destroyed; the separation wall has been built and the internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas factions developed into open war; the occupied lands has been partitioned and Abbas has effective administration only over Palestinians living in disconnected enclaves in the West Bank.

Abbas should have done the honorable thing and stepped down for his complete failure as a leader, but he did not. And it was irresponsible and disgraceful for Fatah to reward Abbas failure and incompetence.

– Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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