Two weeks ago the Palestinians participated in their first democratic election which led to the victory of former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. A lot of people believe he will lead the Palestinians into democracy and freedom, and he certainly says as much to the Western media. However it is important to watch him carefully and make sure he follows through on his promises so he does not become like his mentor, Yasser Arafat.
Some of you reading this might find this fear to be completely unfounded. However, this mistake has been made before with Yasser Arafat. Granted, his track record was far from upstanding; when he committed many of the acts that are today berated, they fell on deaf ears and blind eyes. The world turned a blind eye when Arafat began to steal money from his own people, when he eliminiated anyone who disagreed with him, when he was courting Hamas and Islamic Jihad and when he instilled hatred of Jews and Israel into the cornerstone of Palestinian media and education.
Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, isn’t like that, many people would argue. He’s a moderate; he won a free election in the Palestinian territories and has promised to take steps to end the violence and incitement of hatred. He might have a checkered background but he’s the best option there is for now. I’ll admit that there the situation with Abbas looks more optimistic than with Arafat. But before we all go around with rose-colored glasses, let me throw a few facts out there about Mahmoud Abbas.
Mahmoud Abbas helped to plan out the Munich Massacre in 1968 when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. His doctoral thesis and book he wrote were both about how either the Holocaust was an outright lie or that ‘the Zionists’ assisted the Nazis in murdering Jews to help bring more Jews to Palestine. He’s spoken numerous times, including on the eve of his election victory, about how he will never give up Arafat’s dream of the Right of Return where millions of Palestinians from neighboring Arab countries would be resettled in Israel, something both the Israelis and the American government have said can’t happen. As to his label of a moderate, exactly who are we comparing him to? Arafat? Hamas? Compared to them, Atilla the Hun and Genghis Khan were moderates as well, but that does not speak highly of them.
If he really wants to go through with what he preaches to the Western world, then Mahmoud Abbas has a very difficult road ahead of him. He has to crack down on militant groups who still have a lot of power and command great loyalty in the region.
He has to end the hatred that is prevalent in Palestinian media, education and religion, which teaches that suicide is more important than peace and which refuses to even recognize the Jewish state as existing. He has to assist in keeping Gaza and the West Bank quiet so the Israelis can pull out and leave Abbas with an actual state. And Abbas cannot have the forked tongue Arafat had, calling for peace and restraint in English, and demanding an army of martyrs to liberate Jerusalem in Arabic.
Mahmoud Abbas has a historic opportunity in front of him to actually give his people a state of their own. The Israelis are pulling out and they have opened the door for two states in that area; but you cannot be the leader of a nation without the forces of violence under your control. Abbas has to follow through with everything he says, and if the world does not want a repeat of Arafat, it must police and ensure that both sides keep their word in this endeavor or the Palestinians will once again suffer the after effects of more bad leadership.
Loren S. Casuto is a fourth-year political science major. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.