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Abbas is torn

Aug. 14, 2010 10:58 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 15, 2010 11:47 P.M.)
By Nasser Lahham

President Mahmoud Abbas is searching for the solution to two issues: restoring unity with Gaza and holding elections that would end the division within Palestinian politics. To this end, several observers have noted an apparent change in his decision making process over the past few months.

This change began shortly after South African jurist Richard Goldstone's report into the Gaza war was published and the disarray within the Palestinian leadership became apparent.

It is no secret that Abbas felt disappointed by Palestinian and Arab leaders, whom he trusted, that voiced very different opinions in statements and speeches on TV to those they had professed to in his office. Abbas frequently thinks alone; he doesn't take on any proposal easily, except from a few loyal consultants, and would express anger if one should publicly snub an Arab country or leader.

On his journeys abroad, Abbas tends to read the Quran. He might find in God's words that which is better than the words of politicians. Recently, he has showed a great interest in intellectuals and journalists, inviting them to accompany his delegations abroad. He would speak to them openly, as if saying "this is me, this is how I work. You memorize what you see and what you feel for the history books."

Abbas has also recently invited several Arab journalists to see "the real Palestine" and has called on Palestinian journalists and writers to meet with their Israeli counterparts to break their government's extremist stance and show the justness in their cause.

Asked if this was normalization, the president said "what normalization can one have while under occupation? Go meet them and convince them of the justice of the cause and do not forget it yourselves."

His nature is contrary to that which appears on TV and in photos, where he appears as a grim, frowning man. Abbas likes jokes and popular proverbs, peppering his speeches to create a humorous atmosphere, laughing without going too far, and avoiding embarrassing his guests. He considers that those who have differing opinions are to be respected among all other people.

During our last meeting, Abbas said the night before last that he was unable to sleep. "I was thinking of Gaza until dawn, and how we could solve the problem and restore unity to the homeland. They were daydreams as much as dreams. I was deep in thinking, trying to solve the issue, when I said to myself 'Oh God, its morning.'"

"I really do not sleep at night because of Gaza. I could only find one solution, which is to hold elections, and the voter will be the judge between us [Fatah and the Palestinian Authority] and Hamas," the president said.

He said if the Hamas leadership agrees to hold elections "without guarantees ... this means they are honest [in wanting to reconcile the two governments]. If they reject elections, they want the division to continue."

Other changes are apparent: Abbas has reduced the number of consultative meetings, preferring now to think alone. He met with Jordanian, Egyptian and Saudi journalists to learn the views of the Arab and Palestinian public intimately.

The president is convinced that the US and the CIA have begun contacting Hamas and believes the Islamist party is holding direct talks with Israel. He has not rejected direct talks, but is waiting for US guarantees that would lead to a solution.

Abbas also believes that Fatah has the right to demand a cabinet reshuffle but that the situation is more dangerous than one would think, and he is working to postpone the move to avoid a new crisis within the PA. When asked if the Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is really threatening to quit, Abbas responds jokingly that it was in fact he who is threatening to resign.

Fatah's leadership is active, he says, despite its criticism of the presidency and the party's Central Committee. "The Revolutionary Council's tongue is a million times longer than its previous tongue," he said, lightheartedly.

He does not believe in armed resistance and considers it a step that would destroy the Palestinian homeland and its cities without justification. "If I fail [in securing a Palestinian state] then the alternative plan is to return to the Palestinian leadership," he said.

Abbas further says he does not work to "satisfy the public" but to achieve a "vision of leadership that will achieve success."
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