Abbas' Impossible Task

Abbas' Impossible Task
by Aaron Lakoff
January 20, 2005 - Tulkarm, Palestine

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas are two men who have huge tasks ahead
of them. The stakes are high on both sides, and the whole world is
watching and waiting.
Sharon, on his side, has seen clearer-sailing days. With the
introduction of his Gaza "disengagement" plan, set to being in
spring 2005, he has found his government falling apart, and threats
of mass protest and civil disobedience from far-right wing settlers.
They aren't too content about leaving their homes on lands which
Israel has occupied illegally. And while Sharon himself is seen by
many as a steadfast hawk, even to him the settlers are a force to be
reckoned with. Throughout Jerusalem, signs of support can be seen
declaring "the people are with Gush Katif" (a settlement in the Gaza
strip), and every night groups of settlers hold rallies on the
outskirts of town. Their campaign is a thorn in Sharon's side.
Forget about forging peace with the Palestinians – he has to deal
with his own as well.
Mahmoud Abbas has his hands full as well, but in quite a different
capacity. Eleven days into his new chairmanship of the Palestinian
Authority, the world is waiting on him to quell Palestinian violence
and convince the more extreme elements of society to put down their
guns. This is a task that many saw the late Yasser Arafat incapable
of achieving, and now Abbas has found himself with the inherited
burden of bringing peace unto a troubled land.
Many people, including numerous Israelis I have spoken with, are
looking forward to 2005 as the year that could be a huge step for
peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The world is hoping that
with the Gaza pullout and Abbas' victory in the elections, the stars
are finally lining up in a good way. Some are even prophesizing a
near end to the current Intifada, and a return to Oslo-like
conditions witnessed during the mid-1990's, possibly spearheaded by
George W Bush's "roadmap" to peace and a two-state solution.
However, there's only one problem that keeps creeping up, and it's
this little thing called the occupation.
On the ground in Palestine, even in periods of relative calm, the
occupation is the underlying issue for everyone. The feeling in many
Palestinian towns now is quite the same – quiet, not too much
fighting, and certainly nothing like it was a few years ago. Here in
Tulkarm, a city of 60 000 in the northern part of the West Bank, many
people seem content. Eid El-Adha is upon us, families are visiting
each other, and children are happily setting off firecrackers in the
streets. Palestinians are relaxed, but not many seem optimistic.
Ask any adult here how they feel about Abbas' prospects to bring
about change, and most will say the same thing; Sharon holds the
power, and it's really up to Israel if any change for the better will
happen in Palestine. If the last eleven days are any indication,
this can't be a good thing.
Let's go back ten days. Palestinians woke up after election day with
Abbas, affectionately known as Abu Mazen, as their new leader, and a
new agenda ahead of them. Incidentally, days later there was a
suicide attack outside the Gaza strip which killed six Israelis.
Sharon immediately responded with attacks on civilians in turn, and
cut off all ties with the PA.
This move, drastic as it may be, didn’t' come as a surprise to anyone
here. After all, what can Abbas do in the face of the Israeli
machine? Did anyone really think that things could change overnight?
Abbas simply doesn't have the bargaining power to end this conflict.
If the Oslo era was a good indication, the both sides can talk in
government boardrooms and on the Whitehouse lawn all they want about
peace, but that doesn't mean anything while Israel still controls and
suffocates Palestine.
Take yesterday as an example. In Jenin, even during the relative
calm of a city preparing for Eid, the Israeli Defence Forces shot
dead a 12-year old boy playing with a toy gun in the streets. The
reasoning of the IDF – their soldiers are trained to shoot-to-kill
any time they feel their lives are in danger, even if they can't
distinguish between a toy gun and a real one.
In a way, you can't blame these soldier boys. With an occupation
that gets more intense every day, with home demolitions, the
continual expansion of the separation barrier on Palestinian land,
settlement growth, and daily shootings, EVERYONE'S lives are in
danger. So maybe it's time we take our hopes and our expectations
out of the hyped-up Abu Mazen, and once again focus on the real
source of the problem.