Can Arafat and Abu Mazen put their differences aside…will Palestinian groups let them?
Observers, speaking to Al Bawaba, assess that the dispute between the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat and prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has not come to an end. They state that this dispute has been put on ‘hold’ until the US-endorsed ‘roadmap’ is released. They also admit that the Palestinian leader did compromise to Abu Mazen, however he has retained enough influence that would guarantee him continuity of rule, thus protecting him against any possible ‘political-coup’.
While some politicians see the last deal between the two giving push to the peace process, Wadea Abu Nassar - an Arab-Israeli political analyst inside Israel - thinks the new government will not influence the present standoff in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He believes the ‘roadmap’, which the US claims will help take the region out of its current crisis, is nothing more than a waste of time.
“Sharon and Arafat are not concerned about putting an end to the conflict. The ‘roadmap’ will be useless as long as both are in power,” said Abu Nassar. He added, “the formation of the Palestinian government and the launch of the ‘roadmap’ will not lead to a radical change in the situation as long as Sharon and Arafat want the prevailing situation to continue as it is…everything is in the hands of Sharon, whose interest is for Arafat to stay so that he [Sharon] will not bear any responsibility for undermining the peace process.”
Abu Nassar also views the recent dispute, between Abu Mazen and Arafat over the new cabinet, as nothing more than an attempt on the part of Arafat to stand-up to accusations labeling him the reason behind the failure of the ‘roadmap’. Abu Nassar believes that the agreement reached between the two [over the formation of the new government] has not managed to devoid Arafat of his powers, which the US and Israel eagerly want to see happen.
“Things are still under his [Arafat] control, particularly the Palestinian security apparatus which will not be loyal to (Mohammed) Dahlan (Minister of Security in Abu Mazen’s new government) nor to Abu Mazen,” said Abu Nassar. He believes the fight between Arafat and Abu Mazen has not ended but it will resume after the ‘roadmap’ is released. “Arafat will wait until the roadmap is launched and then will start work [against it]…he is a “fox” and will not surrender easily.’ Abu Nassar concluded.
While some analysts described the battle between the two as a ‘white-coup’ led by Abu Mazen against Arafat, Abdel Jawad Saleh, former Palestinian minister and Fatah Central Committee member, does not see it that way. “I do not agree that this has been a revolt which would lead to radical changes in the PA’s political system or a reform process,” he said. “The tactic which Arafat used in the recent dispute aimed at getting ‘something in return’ for the prime minister post which he created. That ‘something’ was maintaining his position and therefore preventing any possible conspiracies against him…I believe he secured what he wanted through this ‘battle’ he invented” he added.
From his experience working with Arafat as former minister and Fatah Central Committee member, Saleh reiterated that “Arafat does not accept for anybody to share with him his power and influence, and he is ready to do anything to avoid that.
I used to see how he tried to prevent any attempt by his circle from taking any decisions in his absence,” said Saleh. Despite all of this, Saleh believes that Arafat “does not seek to undermine any efforts that may help Palestinian people achieve political gain in their struggle with Israel. But he [Arafat] will do so only if he feels that his popularity is at risk or there is a risk of him being sidelined.”
The Islamic Jihad movement, considered a main target by Abu Mazen’s new government that aims to demilitarize the Intifada, does not appear to be too concerned although it says it may face a new ‘battle’ now in addition to its existing one with Israel. “We will do our best to avoid involving our selves in this ‘battle’ [with the new government] although we are sure of their intentions…which was formed for security rather than reform reasons,” said Abdullah al-Shami, prominent Islamic Jihad leader.
Al-Shami described his movement’s resistance as “a legitimate right endorsed by people all over the world and by God. Our goal is now stronger because Abu Mazen’s agenda is an American and Zionist one.” “The pressures exerted on Arafat over the past few days by the world’s ‘devils’ [referring to the US, Israel, UK and several Arab nations] were meant to implement this agenda. I think Arafat’s position has started to weaken…and his acceptance of Abu Mazen’s demands is indicative of this [weakness]. We do not endorse either side [Arafat or Abu Mazen], however we do endorse the ‘side’ of our people and their resistance…we are fully aware that the battle between the two is a struggle for influence. This fight will remain within the PLO and Fatah movements and will not concern us,” he concluded.
The Islamic movement Hamas also shares Islamic Jihad’s nonchalance about possible internal wrangling amongst the Palestinians. Prominent Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi said, “we have no concerns about possible internal fighting between Arafat and Abu Mazen as he [Abu Mazen] will face the de facto situation [Israeli intransigence]…I do not think he [Abu Mazen] will gamble by confronting the Palestinian people (i.e. by quelling the Intifada) until he sees a clear pro-peace Israeli political agenda in the horizon.” Responding to a question about an understanding between Hamas and Abu Mazen, Rantisi said, “there is no understanding between us and Abu Mazen...I do not think Abu Mazen will gamble and we can’t see him doing so.” Rantisi reiterated what was said by the Islamic Jihad leader, saying that his movement wouldn’t side with Arafat if Abu Mazen decides to tighten his grip over him. “We do not interfere in internal disputes. When the PA assassinated some of our fighters and jailed others, we did not involve ourselves in internal issues, so how can we do so now when it is between Abu Mazen and Arafat?” (Albawaba.com)
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