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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Abu Mazen's Dead End

There was an interesting op-ed in today's Jerusalem Post that I wanted to share with you. It was written by Aaron David Miller, who was one of the State Department's court Jews during the Clinton administration. His argument is that Abu Mazen is shooting himself in the foot by insisting on his referendum on the 'Prisoners' Document.' It's actually a pretty good argument.

But in his effort to regain the initiative and public support, Abbas has made a terrible mistake. He has latched on to an approach crafted by Palestinian prisoners led by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, perhaps the most popular Palestinian on the political scene today. The "prisoner's document," as it is known, calls for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital. It implicitly recognizes Israel as a fact, although not its right to exist. Banking on the reality that Palestinian prisoners are viewed as second only to God in Palestinian society, Abbas intends to call a referendum on the document, using it to force Hamas to choose a two-state solution, and if it doesn't, to undermine its capacity to govern.

THE PROBLEM, however, is that the prisoners' document that Abbas sees as the vehicle of his deliverance will only muddy the clarity of his own stand against terrorism and for negotiations - the very positions that make him credible with Israel and the United States. The prisoners' document endorses armed resistance in the West Bank and Gaza, urges Palestinians to free prisoners by any means and gives preeminence to the Palestinian "right of return."

Far from an instrument of political rejuvenation, Abbas's embrace of the prisoners' approach is counterproductive. The fact that it may represent an advance over Hamas' maximalist goals cannot hide the fact that it is a serious retreat from Fatah's more moderate objectives. Indeed, it reopens vital questions about Israel's right to exist and about Palestinian endorsement of terrorism and violence that should have been laid to rest by now. Abbas risks locking himself into positions that raise serious doubts about his own moderate intentions and could formally link him to prospective partners and committees (the document calls for the creation of a committee to direct resistance in the occupied territories) that will undermine his own approach toward negotiations.

Particularly worrisome is the endorsement of resistance in the occupied territories, a fantasy that has visited only ruin on the Palestinian public and its image - and which Abbas until now has been careful not to endorse.

ABBAS'S APPROACH may play well in the Palestinian Peoria, but it will do little to advance his case in Washington and Jerusalem. And although politics is always local (he might find himself to be the darling of the Palestinian public if a referendum succeeds), in the end, his success or failure will be determined by his capacity to create a process that replaces the occupation with statehood - something that can be achieved only with Israeli and American support.

Read the whole thing.


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