Sunday, January 16, 2005

Conflicting signals

There is a report of a Palestinian pollster who says:

"The public continues to be split in its attitude toward violence. Many of those who voted for Abu Mazen did so even though they do not reject the use of force. They voted for the whole package that the man presented to the public, which includes reforms in the regime, the elimination of corruption and a challenge to [Yasser] Arafat's style," says Shikaki.

Shikaki is among those who do not believe that violence advances Palestinian interests.

However, Shikaki concludes that the theory that Abbas' victory promises quieter days for the Negev town of Sderot - hard hit by Palestinian Qassam rocket attacks - is off the mark.
And yet a different Jerusalem Post article has this to say:
The Palestinians have already confounded cynics by embarking on a relatively smooth transition of power immediately after Yasser Arafat's death and later holding the Arab world's first free presidential election.

"Today the Arabs are jealous of us," boasted Palestinian political analyst Hasan al-Batal.

After four years of fighting, which have resulted in thousands of casualties and the destruction of the economy and infrastructure, a steadily increasing number of Palestinians are now convinced that the time has finally arrived for real changes. Moreover, a growing number of people in Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin seem to be searching for a ladder on which to climb down from the high tree where Arafat left them. In other words, they are seeking a face-saving solution that will prevent their cause from sinking in the quagmire.

Abbas promised during the election campaign to follow in Arafat's footsteps, but those who know him say they nearly fell off their chairs when they heard him talk so highly of his predecessor.

It's no secret that Abbas and Arafat were at loggerheads for many years. The dispute between the two peaked in 2003, when Arafat, under pressure from the US and various European countries, reluctantly agreed to appoint Abbas the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.
Ah, but that is not the only difference of opinion. Haaretz has this about the recent attack at the Gaza Erez crossing:
The deadly terror attack is meant to show the world that Abbas is helpless, both in the political and security fields. It aims to illustrate that Abbas needs "mediators" who will enable him to control the armed groups, and that he cannot quell the anger of Hamas and Fatah.

If Arafat was seen as the leader who could end the armed uprising, but chose not to do so, Thursday's attack portrays Abbas as a leader who may wish to end the armed struggle, but cannot do so.
The Netscape/AP has a different take:
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - Mahmoud Abbas extended his hand in peace to Israel as he was sworn in as the new Palestinian leader Saturday, but he faced a series of crises that imperiled those fledgling moves and raised questions about the elections that brought him to power.

Israeli army fire killed seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip a day after Israel cut all ties with Abbas until he reins in militants. The boycott came after six Israelis were killed during an attack at a Gaza cargo crossing this week.

Also, 46 election officials resigned Saturday over alleged irregularities in the Jan. 9 balloting that gave Abbas a landslide victory with more than 62 percent of the vote.

In his inaugural speech, Abbas condemned violence, urged an immediate cease-fire and said he was extending Israel his hand in peace.

Officials in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office called the speech disappointing, saying it did not define how Abbas would end attacks on Israel.
Of course the real question is not how he will do it. It is a question of can he do it at all.

Inside Israel there is disagreement on how to procede.
MK Ran Cohen said Sharon should remember that Abbas's rivals are "dangerous terrorists," and the response to them should be to respond positively to Abbas's peace gestures. Cohen also said Sharon may miss the chance to carry out the disengagement plan bilaterally.
My take is that is exactly what Sharon has done. Sharon says there will be no Israeli exit from Gaza under fire. I'd say that is about as bilateral as you can get.

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