Friday, April 01, 2005

One Day They Will Build a Statue for Him

If Mahmoud Abbas is able to navigate the transition of authority and eventual recognition by Israel of a Palestinian state, he should be recognized as one of the great heroes of this decade. I have long held that the only way to get control over the militant factions in Palestine is a civil war. And acts of violence like the one Wednesday night, where members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades protested in the streets by firing their weapons in the air after Abbas tried to disarm them, make my prediction more and more likely. But whenever situations like this arise, Abbas has found a way to prove me wrong – handling it with both strength and some compromise. He has one of the toughest jobs in the world. Israel needs him to prove he can control the militant factions, but he also has to control them without allowing Palestine to fall into civil war. The fact that he has been pulling this off so far is amazing.

Unfortunately he has many more obstacles ahead. A new development that could seriously affect his power and ability to maintain peace is the declining influence of the Fatah faction. After the death of Arafat, the movement has had trouble in municipal elections and if it doesn’t change course could lose out in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Hamas on the other hand has been very strong – and if they do well in the elections, they could force Abbas to take tougher stances during the peace process – stances that could prove to be unacceptable to Israel. With the threat of violence always looming, and his own faction on the decline and Hamas on the rise, Abbas certainly has his work cut out for him.