Analysis / Confident Abbas can afford to be anti-weapons
Mahmoud Abbas is a confident man, certain of a landslide victory on January 9 in the Palestinian Authority's presidential elections. That is the conclusion that can be drawn from the clear statement he made in his interview with Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat against the use of weapons in the intifada.
Abbas' position was long known, and one that was repeated. But this is the first time he has said so publicly after the death of Yasser Arafat.
Abbas' stand against what he calls the "military intifada" caused him much damage in the past, as Palestinian public opinion largely supported attacks against Israel and condemned Abbas.
Lately, however, there appears to be a change in public opinion in both the West Bank and Gaza, and Abbas can now make such a statement without causing an uproar or provoking public opposition.
His confidence in his victory is the result of several elements, including Marwan Barghouti's dropping out of the race, which resulted in complete unity in Fatah behind Abbas. Abdul Satar Qassam, a Nablus University lecturer also dropped out of the race on Tuesday, so now there are only seven candidates, and only one of them, Mustafa Barghouti, has a chance to win a few votes from the left.
Dr. Barghouti visited Damascus early this week and met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara. The visit came on the heels of Abbas' successful trips with the PA leadership in Syria and Lebanon. Their visits led to important achievements in the realm of closer ties between the PA and the Syrian regime, which has long boycotted the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Abbas also feels good about his ability to reach an agreement with Hamas. It would involve establishing a mechanism for cooperation between Hamas, the PLO and the PA. According to various proposals under consideration, Hamas would take part in the PA's political decision making process, including decisions regarding a cease-fire, and in exchange, armed Hamas activists would be co-opted into newly reconstituted Palestinian security.
In addition, Hamas plans to take part in the local authorities elections to take place in a few months and possibly may participate in the May 2005 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the PA parliament.
Abbas holds some good bargaining chips with Hamas because of the ties he made with the Syrian regime. Khaled Mashal, the head of the Hamas politburo, who lives in Damascus, may have said Tuesday that his organization rejects calls for a cease-fire with Israel, but he then added that it is possible all the factions would agree to a cease-fire along with most of the Palestinian public. It is obvious to Abbas and his colleagues that Hamas must now adapt its position to that of the Syrian regime, in part because no other Arab state would provide cover for Hamas were it ejected from Syria.