Vol. 4, No. 15 January 20, 2005
The new Palestinian leadership has decided implicitly to deny Arafat his wish to be recognized as a martyr, as someone who died in battle. This is probably the first step on the road to the de-Arafatization of the PLO and the PA.
Abu Mazen wants to do a Sadat. Within six months of succeeding Nasser, Sadat changed the political lay of the land in Egypt, introducing new people and new policies in a dramatic manner. But Sadat had the army and the Egyptian state bureaucracy behind him. None of the PA security organizations carry the weight of the Egyptian army, and the present Palestinian bureaucracy does not count for much in terms of power and control.
I believe a ceasefire agreed to by Hamas is absolutely within reach. I detect strong trends within Hamas that are willing and even anxious for a ceasefire, and that will consider switching to political activity as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
One pillar of Abu Mazen’s strategy is the resumption of intensive negotiations with Israel prior to the disengagement from Gaza, and not about the disengagement from Gaza but about the implementation of the road map.
Ever since the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, the Egyptians have initiated all sorts of formulas for the containment of Israel, to scale Israel down to an acceptable size, thereby eliminating the need to strive for its destruction. This is the whole thesis of the peace process of Egypt, and the intellectual breakthrough that allowed Sadat to come to Jerusalem.
Once the Egyptians reached the conclusion that the Israelis were leaving Gaza, they wanted to help arrange it, or at least restructure it in a way that is not detrimental to Egyptian interests. Egypt disengaged from the Palestinians when it made peace with Israel. I don’t see the Egyptians going into Gaza beyond some symbolic gestures.
Was Arafat a “Martyr”?
Today there is a debate taking place among Palestinians as to whether or not Arafat was a shahid – a martyr. People very close to Abu Mazen or people who want to be close to him told every Palestinian newspaper that none of the thousands of condolences ads that were printed over pages and pages for weeks following Arafat’s death should contain the word “shahid.” Arafat could be called “the great hero,” “the great leader,” “the father,” but never “shahid.”
This is significant because Arafat’s wish in almost every one of his speeches over the past two years was to fall as a martyr on the road to Jerusalem. The new Palestinian leadership has decided implicitly to deny Arafat his wish. He is not a martyr; he is not recognized as someone who died in battle.
Arafat’s funeral combined grief and sincere sorrow with a sigh of relief that it was about time. Recognizing that Arafat was not a martyr was the first step on the road to the de-Arafatization of the PLO and the PA.
Can Abu Mazen Do a Sadat?
Watching Arafat’s funeral reminded me of Gamal Abdul Nasser’s funeral in Egypt in September 1970. The Egyptian people miss that strong leader who used to tell the Americans to go drink the water of the sea, just as Arafat did. They miss Nasser the popular hero, but not his legacy. People don’t miss Sadat in the same way. But still they will not give up the benefits and the advantages Sadat and his legacy brought to Egypt. Within six months he changed the political lay of the land in Egypt, introducing new people and new policies in a dramatic manner.
Abu Mazen wants to do a Sadat. He is even using the same two slogans that Sadat used when he took over from Nasser in order to guide his reform. One is “a state of institutions.” Nobody is above the institutions, nobody is outside the institutions. We govern through the institutions and do not bypass them as Arafat did with his personal patronage system. The other slogan is “sovereignty of the law”; that is, no one is above the law, not even those fighting Israel. These slogans may be changed if they become recognized as Sadat’s slogans, but they reveal where Abu Mazen wants to go.
Can Abu Mazen do a Sadat? First of all, he is now 69, and we have not seen him with the same determination, force of character, and courage that were manifested by Sadat. But more importantly, Sadat had the army and the Egyptian state bureaucracy behind him. Does Abu Mazen enjoy the same degree of support? At this point the support given him by the different chiefs of the different security agencies is very tentative, unenthusiastic, and conditional upon the way in which he’s going to treat them and their organizations. Furthermore, none of the PA security organizations carry the weight that the Egyptian army has. In addition, the present Palestinian bureaucracy does not count for much in terms of power and control. So Abu Mazen is starting off with great disadvantages.
What he’s trying to do is draw a preliminary distinction between criminal weapons, as they call it – those that represent lawlessness, disorder, and chaos in the streets – and what they call political weapons, those belonging to the armed factions of Hamas and the others, that can be controlled through some sort of political arrangement.
I believe a ceasefire agreed to by Hamas is absolutely within reach. I detect strong trends within Hamas that are willing and even anxious for a ceasefire. The movement has been dramatically weakened in the West Bank and its leaders there realize they cannot put it back together under the present circumstances, and will consider switching to political activity as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its people in the West Bank are beginning to say, maybe we have overplayed our hand, and Hamas has to revert back to becoming the Muslim Brotherhood, under whatever name.
The Arab World Cheers But Doesn’t Participate
At the end of the Yom Kippur October 1973 War, the Arab states decided to withdraw from active involvement in military conflicts with Israel. Consistently, the Arab world switched either to a cold peace with Israel, as Egypt and then Jordan did, or to a cold war, as Syria does. In both cases there is no shooting. The Arabs are in the gallery, cheering on the Palestinians, but never going on to the field.
Every Palestinian I know realizes that the Arabs have forsaken and, to a degree, abandoned the Palestinians since they refuse to share in their military struggle. No Egyptian or Syrian blood will be shed for the Palestinians. No one knows this better than Abu Mazen, and I see him trying to go for what I would call a temporary, lukewarm peace with Israel. This means he is abandoning Arafat’s basic equation.
Abu Mazen’s Game Plan
Abu Mazen’s game plan is first to try and arrest the deterioration and chaos, and then to work toward some form of normalcy in the Palestinian territories. The second part of the game plan involves a process of elections. After the January 9 elections for Palestinian Authority chairman, there will be legislative elections, Fatah council elections, and municipal elections – a one-year process of electioneering to pacify the situation, allowing other forces to join in and having people be engaged in politics rather than other pursuits. The third pillar of his strategy is the resumption of intensive negotiations with Israel prior to the disengagement from Gaza, and not about the disengagement from Gaza but about the implementation of the road map.
The last pillar of Abu Mazen’s game plan involves the support of the Arab countries. He has already toured the different Arab capitals, campaigning through television screens. This tour brought some benefits that are extremely important to Palestinians, such as reconciliation with Kuwait, which drove out 400,000 Palestinians following the Gulf War in 1991. He also brought with him a formula to repair relations between the PLO and Syria, which had been at odds with the PLO since 1983.
Israel’s disengagement plan was a unilateral concept in which Israel makes the rules on its own, an approach tailored to a situation in which there was no partner. But now, I believe there is a good chance that there will be somebody to talk to in earnest. Israelis will have to ask themselves if they want to stick to the same plan and the same concept when the situation has changed. I would argue that there are so many more benefits to an agreement as opposed to barely coordinated unilateralism that it’s worth it to explore other options. In addition, there are now important outside players, the Egyptians and the Jordanians.
Egypt’s Limited Interests in Gaza
At the time of Oslo, the Arab world basically accepted Arafat’s 40-year-old slogan about the independence of Palestinian decision-making: the Arabs allowed the Palestinians to be independent. That didn’t work, and what we see now on the Egyptian front is an Egyptian-Israeli understanding, setting the parameters for whatever deal will be concluded between Abu Mazen and Sharon. It will not be an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians over control of borders. It will be an agreement dictated to the Palestinians, basically by an Israeli-Egyptian accord, if one is reached.
Ever since the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, the Egyptians have initiated all sorts of formulas for the containment of Israel. It all stems from the old Boutros Ghali formula for Egypt and the rest of the Arab world to scale Israel down to an acceptable size through peace, thereby eliminating the need to strive for its destruction. This is the whole thesis of the peace process of Egypt. This is the intellectual breakthrough that allowed Sadat to come to Jerusalem. Now that the Egyptians have reached the conclusion that cooperative containment of Israel was necessary because the Israelis were leaving Gaza, they wanted to help arrange it, or at least restructure it in a way that is not detrimental to Egyptian interests, and that does not allow Israel to throw Gaza into Mubarak’s lap, which he doesn’t want.
Egypt disengaged from the Palestinians when it made peace with Israel. The Egyptians did not want Palestinian students in their universities. They made trouble for any Palestinian wanting to go through Egypt. They did not want citrus from the Gaza Strip exported through Port Said. They did not want to have too much to do with the Palestinians. I don’t see the Egyptians going into Gaza beyond some symbolic gestures.
Abu Mazen should be appreciated for making it clear that his ticket is the end of the intifada. That’s clear to every Palestinian. His election will be a message not only that Fatah was able to close ranks and pull together and block Barghouti and the rest, but also that the Palestinian electorate accepts the basic premise of Abu Mazen, which is: let’s put an end to this bloody thing. However, if Abu Mazen doesn’t remove most of the security chiefs within the first month, then you know he’s in deep trouble.
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Ehud Yaari is the Middle East commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 Television. He is also an associate editor of the Jerusalem Report, the author of eight books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and an associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on December 21, 2004.