Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fighting on two fronts, Abbas is at a crossroads

By Danny Rubinstein

"Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has reached one of the most important crossroads in his life. On Monday, he found himself in a bitter struggle with the head of the opposition in Fatah, Farouk Kaddoumi, and two of his supporters during the preparations for a meeting of the movement's central committee in Amman.

Abbas did not get the support he expected from his colleagues on the committee. The situation was so bad that the gathering was canceled - though officially, it was merely postponed for a week.

Aides to Abbas suspect that Kaddoumi is cooperating with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, who is based in Damascus, and that the two are making a bid to take over the Palestine Liberation Organization and move the Palestinian leadership out of the territories.

Thus Abbas now finds himself embroiled in infighting and tension not only with Hamas, but also inside his own movement. And those who are supposed to back him up - the United States, the Quartet, the Arab states and Israel - consider him to be a weak leader who makes a lot of mistakes.

This is about a lot more than protocol. It is about a bitter struggle for power: Kaddoumi and two other members of the central committee, Ahmed Ghnayem and Mohammad Jihad, are veteran opponents of the peace process and the Oslo Accords, and refuse to come to the territories.

Moreover, Abbas was informed that Kaddoumi had visited Damascus and met there with Meshal about how to include Hamas in the PLO and what positions Hamas leaders would receive in the Palestinian national leadership.

Both Kaddoumi and Meshal believe that the Palestinian leadership should not be based in the territories, since there, it is at Israel's mercy. One serious problem for Abbas is that veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee do not fully support him. Some clashed with him during the period when there was friction between him and Arafat; others have personal gripes against him.

In an effort to counter this problem, Abbas developed ties with younger members, such as Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub, and he is pressing to add 21 younger members to the central committee, whose 15 current members are in their seventies and refuse to allow any changes.

This mess is having a negative effect on Abbas' ability to deal with both the Hamas government in Gaza and the Hamas leadership in Damascus. Despite backing from Jordan and Egypt, Abbas has been unable to convince Hamas even to accept the Arab peace initiative, which calls for recognition of Israel in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 lines. The question now is whether Abbas has the strength to announce the dissolution of the Hamas government, thereby risking the possibility of civil war."

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