Under heavy international pressure, Yasser Arafat has agreed to a compromise with prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) on the constitution of a proposed Palestinian Cabinet. Abu Mazen insisted upon the inclusion of Muhammad Dahlan as a minister in a key internal security post, an appointment Arafat initially opposed. Arafat backed down, and now the Cabinet faces a critical upcoming confirmation vote in the Palestinian Legislative Council. One top PA official went so far to call the Abu Mazen achievement “a silent coup” that effectively deposes Arafat.
The Arafat-Abu Mazen settlement has generated a great deal of optimism for the upcoming American-led “road map” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It is hoped that Abu Mazen and Dahlan will direct a major clampdown on Palestinian terrorist factions and thereby clear the way for discussion of permanent, peaceful borders.
Israeli government leaders have expressed cautious optimism regarding Abu Mazen and Dahlan. But legitimate concerns remain, and with momentum for the “road map” building, HonestReporting encourages balanced media presentation of the following points:
—- A LOOK AT ABU MAZEN —-
In describing Abu Mazen’s credentials for a crackdown on terror, Associated Press on Thursday echoed the major media in declaring that he is “an outspoken critic of attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants.”
One gets the sense the new leader emerged from a dovish, nonviolent Palestinian camp. Indeed, in a celebrated November 2002 speech, Abu Mazen earned the title of moderate by stating: “We cannot reach our goal through the use of force.” He later, however, carefully qualified his statement, advocating ongoing violence against Israelis living over the Green Line and clarifying that “we didn’t say we would stop the armed struggle. We said that the militarization of the Intifada should stop… there is no option but to stop it for a year and it won’t be perceived as caving in on our side.”
These unequivocally hostile Abu Mazen statements were until recently posted on the IDF’s official web site to illustrate terror support from the Palestinian leadership. As noted by Haaretz, they were removed from the site last month in an apparent effort to grant Abu Mazen legitimacy during his rise to power.
The New York Times reports that Israeli officials have gathered what they call extreme statements made by Abu Mazen over the years, but have held the material in reserve while they judge his performance.
The IDF seemingly agrees with Washington that Abu Mazen is the best of many bad options to replace Arafat in the Palestinian leadership. But for the record, here’s some background:
– In 1964, Abu Mazen was one of the original founders of the PLO/Fatah (itself the father of modern terrorism), and is presently head of the PLO’s executive committee.
– Abu Mazen supports the Palestinian right of refugee return, a key reason for the failure of the Oslo Accords which he himself negotiated.
– Important Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized Abu Mazen for his Holocaust-denying 1983 book, “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement.” (see HonestReporting critique at:
– Abbas is widely perceived by Palestinians as corrupt, illustrated by his construction of a lavish $1.5 million villa in a poverty-stricken area of Gaza.
– Finally, we recall that Abu Mazen was never elected to public office, but rather appointed directly by Arafat. This was clearly not what President Bush had in mind when declaring last June: “I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy.”
—- A LOOK AT MUHAMMAD DAHLAN —-
After joining Fatah in 1987, Dahlan later headed Gaza security for the PA, and in 1996 he arrested a number of senior Hamas leaders following a wave of Hamas terror attacks. This celebrated arrest order, alongside some recent dovish statements, has landed Dahlan in the “moderate” Palestinian camp in the eyes of the Western media. The Miami Herald, for example, refers to Dahlan as “a promising member of the new generation of Palestinian leaders, a man who is respected — even liked — by many Israeli and U.S. officials.”
Promising, perhaps, but not necessarily anti-terror. Note, for example:
– In the Arab press, Dahlan expressed personal regret for cracking down on Hamas leaders, stating: “We erred with our harsh and discriminatory attitude toward Hamas… the presence of Hamas in Palestinian territory is very important for the building of the Palestinian homeland.”
– Last June, Jerusalem ex-mayor Ehud Olmert censured Dahlan in The Wall Street Journal for personally sheltering Muhammad Dief, “a leading Hamas mastermind with the blood of scores of Israelis on his hands.” Olmert noted further that Dahlan is a primary suspect in the terror attack on an Israeli school bus in Kfar Darom in November 2000.
—- KFAR SABA BOMBING —-
With media focus on these two Fatah legends, a Fatah-affiliated suicide bomber detonated himself Thursday morning at the entrance to the new Kfar Saba train station, killing a security guard and wounding 14 others. A faction of Fatah — The Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades — claimed responsibility for the attack.
This latest terror attack highlights the larger problem facing Israelis today: Though Arafat’s official power might now be lessening somewhat, his leadership and support of terror continue to prevail on the Palestinian street. As of this hour, 60 terror attack warnings ring throughout Israeli cities.
Moreover, a recent poll indicates that the Palestinian street favors Arafat — with only 3 percent of Palestinians supporting Abu Mazen’s “reformist” leadership.
Arafat still runs the show from the top-down, and, no less importantly, from the bottom up. If Abu Mazen and Dahlan do indeed emerge as anti-terror czars, their toughest task will nonetheless remain. Decades of Arafat-led anti-Israel vitriol in Palestinian schools, media and government will not disperse with a rapid change in leadership.
As John F. Kennedy so aptly observed, “Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of the people.”
HonestReporting encourages members to monitor your local media to see how they are characterizing Abu Mazen, Dahlan, and their role in Mideast developments.