The late Hafez Assad had "his Palestinians." Ideologically
divergent, they served politically to forestall any move
by the PLO towards a negotiated settlement with Israel and
personally to thwart the man Assad loathed like no other:
Surely few in my generation have even heard of the
personalities comprising the Palestinian face of Assad's
crusade. Abu Musa, a celebrated Palestinian commander
early in the Lebanon War, in 1983 led his breakaway Fateh
faction into battle against what remained of Arafat's PLO
in the wake of Begin and Sharon's slaughter a year prior.
Thanks to Syrian patronage, his combat victory led him
into total obscurity and into early retirement in
Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, a Palestinian-born Syrian military
officer whose Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) broke from George
Habash's PLFP and later from the PLO entirely largely on
the issue of Syrian clientage, similarly led his
organization into irrelevance.
If anything, the Syrian groups deserve recognition as the
vanguard of the Palestinian national movement's plunge
into a moral abyss from which it has never fully emerged.
Special mention is owed to the PFLP-GC's string of raids
targeting children in northern Israel in the early 1970s.
The "Damascus alliance" of Palestinian leftist groups took
Assad's bait, its acts of barbarism sufficient to wipe out
Arafat's efforts to force a political compromise on
Israel, starting with the binational secular state
outlined in the PLO's Ten-Point Programme of 1974.
George Bush and Condoleezza Rice have "their Palestinian."
He is Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas).
Ideologically, he bears nothing in common with the
aforementioned Syrian puppetry. His nom de guerre is the
signature of a generation that, it must be remembered, led
the Palestinians back from certain extinction by a
combination of diplomacy, publicity, and armed resistance.
Abu Mazen was there from day one, and remained Arafat's
technocratic deputy through the PLO's successive exiles
until its arrival in Gaza in 1994.
Abu Mazen is neither a fighter nor a leader. Since Israel
renewed its destruction of Gaza last month, killing more
than 200 Palestinians, seemingly the only mention of him
has come in the context of Rice's deluded musings on a
"new Middle East." As America's allies from Great Britain
to Jordan try to impress on it Palestine's centrality in
the Middle East's troubles, the U.S. demurs by playing the
Abu Mazen card just as Hafez Assad played the Palestinian