Palestinian interim leader and presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas today called the intifadas against Israel a "mistake" and called for an end to violence as a means of ending the occupation, the AP reports:
The armed uprising against Israel is a mistake and must end, interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview published Tuesday, signaling his determination to change direction after Yasser Arafat's death. ...
In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat published Tuesday, Abbas said Palestinians should resist Israeli occupation without resorting to violence.
It is important to "keep the uprising away from arms because the uprising is a legitimate right of the people to express their rejection of the occupation by popular and social means," Abbas said.
"Using the weapons was harmful and has got to stop," Abbas said, referring to shootings and bombings by Palestinian militants that have killed hundreds of Israelis since the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.
Abbas' comments won't generate a lot of popular support, especially in the Hamas-rich areas of Gaza and the West Bank border, and I doubt he would have made them unless Marwan Barghouti pulled out of the race, as he did again earlier this week. Poll after poll has shown broad support for the terror campaign against Israeli citizens among Palestinians, although polling in a dictatorship where free speech usually gets a bullet for a reward does have certain accuracy issues. It seems like a risky political move for Abbas; the comments open him up to another candidacy on the radical flank, even if Barghouti fails to take advantage of it.
Getting past the immediate electoral implications of Abbas' statement, the fact that he aired these opinions publicly shows how fragile Arafat's legacy has become. Abbas would not have dared to give a contradictory policy statement like this to any newspaper, let alone a Western-based publication, while Arafat was alive. The statement appears to acknowledge the dead end towards which the old terrorist led the Palestinians over the past ten or more years. The new Fatah party line may well be to revere Arafat the revolutionary but to eschew the revolution.
All of this is predicated on the assumption that Abbas believes what he says and intends to bring an end to the intifadah and the violent strategies used by the Palestinians. It also assumes he has the ability to do so; even Abbas recognizes the chaotic state of his security forces, without mentioning their infiltration by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Skeptics will shrug and chalk up Abbas' remarks to simply another public-relations ploy, which I agree could very well be possible. On the other hand, if peace is to come, it will have to come from a man like Abbas speaking truths like this at first.
Perhaps Abbas may succeed in convincing his fellow Palestinians to wake up from their brainwashing and approach their situation from a rational basis. In this day and age, bombthrowing no longer gets a people to the bargaining table; it gets them assassinated, as Hamas increasingly has learned. It loses them support, as Egypt continues to warn in its recent diplomacy. It gets the American military pulling people out of foxholes and driving them into the desert, as both Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar have experienced. The world has changed, and the Palestinians need to realize it.