January 12, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 845

Progressive Arab Intellectual: 'The New Palestinian Leadership Must Not Make Populist Decisions, but Must be Courageous and Think of the Country's Best Interests'

January 12, 2005
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 845

Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi, a progressive Jordanian intellectual living in the U.S., recently published an article in the Qatari daily Al-Raya titled "'Mahmoud Abbas' - Not 'Abu Mazen,'" in which he claimed that the death of Yasser Arafat – who he describes as "a bone in the throat of the Palestinian cause" – constituted a breakthrough for the Palestinian cause, and that Mahmoud Abbas, unlike Arafat, should refrain from making populist decisions, should rely upon the constitutional institutions, and should incorporate intellectuals and businessmen in the building of the Palestinian state. The following are excerpts from his article: [1]

"The Arab Media Must Stop Using the Nickname 'Abu'"

"First of all, I ask the Arab media to stop repeating the nickname 'Abu Mazen.' This nickname is [one] of the leftovers from the revolution stage and its 'Abu's, which ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, [and gave way to] the stage of the building of the Palestinian state, [a stage] that required brains and realism, and not fists and 'Abu's.

"Today Mahmoud Abbas is not a revolutionary or the leader of a gang war. He is a political leader and a statesman. He has not come to lead a revolution for the eradication of Israel, but to build a Palestinian state and to reach an understanding with Israel on this issue.

"Following the 'Aqaba and Sharm Al-Sheikh summits in 2003, [Abbas] made a courageous statement that the Palestinian problem is a political problem, requiring a political solution. This is the only realistic statement made in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which no [other] Arab leader – not even [Egyptian President] Abd Al-Nasser – dared to make. The price [of this statement] was the sacrifice of Abbas's political future for some time, when Arafat pulled the red carpet out from under [his feet]…"

Why Was Arafat 'A Bone in the Throat' of the Palestinians?

"There were many reasons for this, primarily the following:

"* Arafat's personality remained at [the stage when he was] the leader of a gang war, and did not move to the stage of becoming the political leader of a nation with a complex, intricate, and long history.

"* Arafat was sick with mythomania, the condition of compulsive lying, one of the symptoms of hysteria, [a symptom] that causes people to lie unconsciously, just like breathing.

"* Arafat was one of the Third World leaders who used to surprise the decision-makers in the region and the world with unexpected [actions], such as the establishment of the Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which increased the militarization of the Intifada and drove the peaceful solutions to the Palestinian problem further away…

"* Israel, the West, and the U.S. did not believe Arafat's words, statements, or decisions. These were not institutional, but individual, temperamental decisions, which surrendered to the will of the Palestinian masses. Arafat constantly demanded, and never gave a thing. As a leader, he was a tactician, not a strategist.

"* Arafat was a populist, irrational leader, like any Third World leader who succumbed to the will of the public that created and crowned him, and [who] did not [work to fulfill] the needs of the public, present or future. His main concern was to please the public, which succumbed to his impulses, suffering from his bleeding, narcissistic, religious, national wounds.

"* Arafat and a group of Palestinian poets, headed by Mahmoud Darwish, his cultural advisor and speechwriter for over twenty years, Samih Al-Qassem, Haroun Hashem Rashid, 'Izz Al-Din Al-Manasrah, and others, converted the Palestinian problem since 1948 from a purely political problem to an imaginary lyrical problem that made them poetic superstars. That is what Arafat did when he refused all the political settlements that were offered him, which he viewed through the binoculars of the poet Darwish, and not through those of the realistic politician…

"If [Arafat] had been like Nelson Mandela – as he would have liked – he would have signed the peace agreement at Camp David in 2000. But he did not, because he was Arafat, not Mandela.

"* Indeed, Arafat is the one who put the Palestinian problem on the world map, but on the other hand, he did not help this problem in the domestic [Palestinian] arena. He did not build the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, and did not formulate the Palestinian laws. He let the country become [full of] corruption and anarchy, which ensured the stability of his regime while being a disaster for the Palestinians…

"* Finally, Arafat was a schizophrenic leader. He waved the olive leaf in the U.N. and among international circles, all the while brandishing the rifle in Amman, Beirut, Gaza and Ramallah. The international community could not place him within the peace camp or within the camp of war. This aimless wandering – in relation both to this matter and to other matters – led the Palestinian problem in various, complex, and intricate directions, all as a result of the succumbing of the Palestinian problem to the personal political temper of the leader, instead of to constitutional institutions."

Since Arafat Died the Doors Have Opened

"There is no doubt that Yasser Arafat's death opened most of the doors that had been closed to the Palestinian state. Within a month of Arafat's death, there has been progress, the likes of which the Palestinian Authority has not undergone from 1994 to this day!

"After Arafat's death, Israel has become more flexible, and Israeli public opinion has become slightly more flexible [too]. Their ears have opened, even slightly, to the call for peace. This is despite the attempts of armed Palestinian religious fundamentalism, with all its factions, to close these ears by means of suicide operations … and by means of declarations of 'bravado' issued by the leaders of these factions over the Arab satellite channels. They are playing with fire without knowing the extent of its danger, in light of the great continuous changes that have taken place in the world…

"After Arafat's death, the Arab-Palestinian reconciliation took place, restoring Arab-Palestinian relations, which were destroyed by Arafat's 'tales of bravado,' and by his irresponsible and unbalanced political positions. Moreover, the doors to Damascus, Kuwait, Beirut, Riyadh, Doha, Amman, and other Arab capitals have been opened to the new leaders of the Palestinian state.

"After Arafat's death, the Europeans and the Americans were relieved. They began to come in their masses to the offices of the PA in order to support the new regime and to participate in the establishment of the democratic Palestinian state by paving the way for elections, by removing all obstacles [to elections] and by supporting the new political trend of the Palestinian leaders...

"We see that Arafat's death has opened a [new] window for the Palestinians. What the Palestinian people, the Arabs, the Europeans, and the Americans did not manage to do, was done by the heavens, which intervened at the right time and the right place and removed this bone wedged in the throats of the Palestinians, which obstructed Palestinian breathing and almost suffocated the Palestinian cause to death…"

Abbas's Path to the Palestinian State

"* Abbas must put an end to the unrealistic illusions that Arafat promised the bleeding, revolutionary public, and must confront them with the bitter truths. One of these truths is that the return of four million Palestinian refugees to Israel is an utterly impossible [demand], which spells out the destruction of the State of Israel. If there is a right of return for the refugees, the only place that can absorb them is the land of the Palestinian state.

"* Palestinian decision-making should not be carried out by the leader, but by the constitutional institutions, the elected legislative authority, and the advisors in educational and research institutes.

"* Political decision-making [must be carried out] on the basis of the interests of the Palestinian people, and not on the basis of its desires and hopes. The populist decisions adopted by the Arab political leaders were the cause of the Arabs' disasters and their regression to their current situation. The Palestinian leadership must be courageous and not think about itself and its fate while making a political decision, but [must] bear in mind the interests of the homeland, the nation, and the future of the generations [to come].

"* A collective Palestinian decision must be taken to stop the militarization of the Intifada and the anarchy in the carrying of guns. The militias and military gangs must be turned into political parties, [and they] must be incorporated into a political Palestinian entity and be allowed to express their opinion in political, not military, ways.

"* All the intellectuals and businessmen should participate in the political building of the Palestinian state. Intellectuals should participate [in the building of the state] by means of [political] awareness, a call for political rationalism, and by fighting against suicide operations. Businessmen should participate [in the building of the state] by means of support of Palestine's economy and by building the institutions of a civil society. These should replace the social institutions which were established by the armed religious factions and through which [they] have managed to rake in the support of a large sector of Palestinian society."

[1] Al-Raya (Qatar), January 4, 2005.

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