Abu against Abu
The clash between Abu-1 and Abu-2 – Abu-Amar v. Abu-Mazen – is not a personal matter, as it
is presented by journalists in Israel and all over the world. Of course, the egos of the two
personalities do play a role, as in all political fights. But the controversy itself goes much
deeper. It reflects the unique situation of the Palestinian people.
An upper-class Palestinian defined it this week on Israeli television as “the move from the
culture of revolution to the culture of a state.” Meaning: the Palestinian war of liberation has
come to an end, and now the time has come to put the affairs of state in order. Therefore,
Yasser Arafat (Abu-Amar), who represents the first, must go and Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazen),
who represents the second, must take over.
No description could be further from reality. The Palestinian war of liberation is now at its
height. Perhaps it has never been at a more critical stage. The Palestinians are faced with
existential threats: ethnic cleansing (called in Israel “transfer”) or imprisonment in powerless,
How has this illusion - that the national struggle is over and that the time has come to turn to
administrative matters - arisen?
The situation of the Palestinian people is indeed unique. As far as I am aware, it has no
parallel in history. Following the Oslo agreements, a kind of Palestinian mini-state came into
being, consisting of several small enclaves on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These
enclaves have to be
administered. But the national Palestinian aim – a viable, independent state
in all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem – is far from
being attained. In order to achieve it, an arduous national struggle lies
Thus, two different – and contradictory – structures exist side by side: a
national liberation movement requiring strong and authoritative leadership,
and a mini-state that needs a regular, democratic and transparent
Arafat represents the first. He is much more than a “symbol”, as he is often
described. He is a leader possessing an unequalled moral authority among
his own people and vast experience in international affairs. He has steered
the Palestinian national movement away from subjugation to Arab and
international interests and led it from near oblivion to the threshold of
Abu-Mazen and his colleagues represent the second reality. They have no
solid base among their own people, but do have connections with powerful
players, most importantly the United States and Israel, with all that entails.
The debate between the two hinges on an assessment of the intifada. For
two and a half years, the Palestinian people have been suffering immense
losses: about 2500 people killed, ten thousand disabled and injured, a
whole stratum of young leaders wiped out, the economy destroyed,
immense damage to property. Was this worthwhile? Can it continue?
Abu-Mazen and his supporters say No. They believe that the whole fight
was a mistake. Even before the present debate, Abu-Mazen called for the
cessation of the “armed intifada”. He believes that the Palestinians can
achieve more in negotiations with the US and in a political process with
Israel. He relies on the mainstream Israeli peace movement and
personalities like ex-Labor minister Yossi Beilin. In his opinion, the violence
undermines the political process and harms the Palestinian people.
Abu-Mazen’s opponents deny all this. In their opinion, not only has the
intifada not failed, but, quite the contrary, has had important results: the
Israeli economy is in deep crisis, the tensions in Israeli society have
reached a peak, Israel’s image in the world has sunk from a democracy
defending itself to a ruthless occupier. Security has worsened to the point
that there are armed security guards everywhere. The casualties seem to
them a price worth paying. If the war of attrition continues, they believe,
Israeli will in the end be compelled to accede to the minimum demands of
the Palestinians (a state, the Green Line border, Jerusalem as a shared
capital, dismantling the settlements and a negotiated solution of the refugee
Moreover, Abu-Mazen’s opponents believe that his basic assumptions are
wrong. The US will never pressure Israel, whose agents control Washington.
Israel will never concede anything without being forced to do so. Sharon will
continue building settlements, creating facts on the ground and pulling the
land out from under the feet of the Palestinian people even while pretending
to conduct negotiations.
Abu-Mazen's position may, perhaps, have been stronger if the US and Israel
had not been so obviously trying to impose him on the Palestinian people.
The examples of poor Karzai in Afghanistan and the miserable gang of
emigres whom the Americans brought to Iraq are certainly not helping Abu-
Mazen, despite his being one of the founders of the Fatah movement.
A large group of mediators have tried to achieve a compromise. They say, in
effect, that there is an ideal division of labor: Arafat will continue to lead the
struggle for liberation, Abu-Mazen will administer the Palestinian enclaves.
However, this raises many practical problems. For example: where will the
money for the liberation struggle come from? What will happen to the armed
organizations, and who will control the security forces? Who will possess
the supreme authority – the Palestinian people as a whole, including the
Diaspora (Arafat as Chairman of the PLO) or the administration of the
And, most important of all: would Abu-Mazen be prepared to risk a
fratricidal war? The US and Israel demand that he liquidate the armed
organizations and confiscate their weapons, even before the Palestinians
move one step towards a state of their own. This will, of course, involve a
bloody internecine struggle that will fill Sharon’s government with joy and
consolidate its position still further. Or should national unity be maintained,
at least until Israel stops all settlement activity and agrees to a Palestinian
state in all the occupied territories?
This debate is much wider than the personal struggle between Abu and
Abu, ego against ego. For the Palestinian people, this is a debate about
existential questions – just like similar debates in the Jewish community in
Palestine, that ended only with the founding of the State of Israel.
To sum up: Much Ado about Nothing. As evidenced by the fact that neither
Sharon nor the settlers are upset.