Analysis / Arafat in a suit
A storekeeper in Ramallah was asked by an interviewer from one of the Gulf state stations whom he intended to vote for. 'For the good of my business, I should vote for Abu Mazen.'
A storekeeper in Ramallah was asked by an interviewer from one of the Gulf state stations whom he intended to vote for. "For the good of my business, I should vote for Abu Mazen. But for the sake of my national struggle, I thought I would vote for Dr. Barghouti."
To judge from the exit polls published last night, business won out. A majority of more than 60 percent of people voting for the Palestinian Authority chairman chose Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), one of whose election slogans was to put a stop to the "military intifada" - or, as we would put it, to terror attacks.
Mustafa Barghouti, the candidate of the left who linked himself to the Palestinian opposition groups that are calling for a continuation of the violence, lost.
Things were tense all day yesterday at Abu Mazen's headquarters. If voters did not show, or if Abu Mazen garnered less than 50 percent of the vote, his opponents, especially in Hamas, were ready to bombard him with arguments along the lines of "you have no mandate. Only about half the Palestinian people participated in the democratic process of choosing their new chairman. The other half, mostly refugees, lives abroad. How can you make national decisions for them?"
Abu Mazen's success teaches that in spite of his lack of the charisma and popularity that Yasser Arafat had, he is an accepted leader and his political position, which calls for negotiation, is also accepted.
But make no mistake: He may wear a suit, he may not jump on tables or shout that a million martyrs will march to Jerusalem, but his demands from Israel are no different than Arafat's were.
Abu Mazen is not expected to order his security forces to wipe out terror or to stop firing missiles from Gaza, as many in Israel would wish him to do. Instead, very soon we will representatives of all the Palestinian factions, headed by Fatah and Hamas, convening in Cairo for a dialogue sponsored by President Hosni Mubarak.
Abu Mazen hopes to convince the factions that a cease-fire and a decision to take the political road will bring them closer to their goal than violence will. To that end, he will reform the security forces as soon as he can. When he spoke about "security for Palestinian citizens" during his campaign, he meant not only vis-a-vis the conflict with Israel, but with respect to the anarchy in the PA's own forces.
His plans are known. He tried to implement them during his short tenure as prime minister in the summer of 2003, but failed at that time. He wants to pare down the security forces form 12 to three, and unite them under one commander with clear-cut powers. His determination to make this happen grew after gunmen broke into the mourning tent for Arafat in Gaza during Abu Mazen's visit there three days after Arafat died.
Abu Mazen knows he has to close down the quasi-private militias operating in Gaza, which do not allow for proper government. He also needs to get ready for the Palestinian parliamentary elections in July, which is about the same time the disengagement is due to be implemented.
Hamas representatives have stated to him that they would consider participating in those elections if the law is changed so that they will not be held according to the system delineated in the Oslo accords.
For Abu Mazen, all of these steps come under the umbrella of proper governance, aimed at making Hamas and the other factions legitimate political parties. Furthermore, he and his supporters believe that proper governance, which will win international support, will bring them closer to their goal - the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital - than any other means.