Abbas Offers Cautious Hope for Free and Peaceful Palestine

Scott Krummey

The democratic election of Mahmoud Abbas on January 8 is certainly positive news out of the Arab world. Abbas’ election has the potential to be a turning point in the bloody history of the Israel-Palestine struggle, and could lead to the much sought-after free Palestinian state. Since 2000, the road to peace has been stalled by diminished hopes of peace, resulting in increased violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Much of this was advocated by the late Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who encouraged and funded terrorism against Israelis. The passing of Arafat, who ruthlessly consolidated his power while in office, offers a chance to move towards a more legitimate democratic society and, eventually, to gain peace with Israel. The PLO candidate Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, won by a landslide in only the second democratic election in the Middle East. Although his message has not been entirely roses, he is widely regarded as capable of bringing peace – garnering endorsements from, among others, the European Union and former President Clinton. Considered a pacifist, his pre-election platform included abandoning the intifada (uprising against Israel begun by Arafat) and re-starting negotiations.This new promise for peace is also a testament to President Bush’s strong conviction to his policy in the region. In a move that was decried as a move away from peace, Bush consistently refused to negotiate with Arafat because of his support of terrorism against Israel and embarrassment of the US after talks with President Clinton in 2000. Rather than continue discussions focused on a land-for-peace strategy, Bush attacked the ideology preventing peace by steadfastly encouraging Israel’s fight against terrorism. Bush’s policy has received much criticism, such as the thoughtful and much-publicized headline in the LA Times “World To Bush: Get Real.” Yet, as Palestinians turned out for elections in January, it seems as though Bush’s policy scored a quiet victory: Israel’s military has successfully derided terrorist organizations and with Arafat out of the way, Palestine seems poised to develop as a democracy. It appears that Palestinians realize the importance of this moment in their struggle for independence. For the first time in decades, the majority of Palestinians do not support attacks against Israel. Elections, which could have been a cause for protest and violence, went off smoothly with relatively little hostility. The ideology behind Bush’s vision of Palestine is nothing new – for a peaceful and functioning state to exist, terrorism must be eliminated and democracy must supported by ruling bodies. With the election of Abbas, this policy must now be taken one step further to ensure the continued democratic development of Palestine. It is the role of the free world, with the US in the lead, to link policies to the degree of freedom that the Palestinian Authority gives its citizens. The President must make it clear that US support comes only with expanded freedom within Palestinian society.These reasons for optimism are not without qualification. Palestine faces the need for typical areas of democratization within a developing country: in the media, in the schools, and in the economy. Also, Abbas must work to undo almost a generation of Palestinians poisoned against Israel by Arafat. Democracy is the only way of showing Israel and the rest of the world that Palestine is deserving of its statehood. With consistent diplomatic pressure from foreign sources, Abbas will have incentive to stay the course of democracy in hopes of finally achieving peace and independence for Palestine.