Friday, November 12, 2004

# Posted 6:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

I'M CAUTIOUSLY HOPEFUL by the rise once again to the leadership of Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, who I have long watched with great curiosity. Profiles are here, here and here.

It is well known that he has preferred statesmanship to dirty politics (and in the West Bank and Gaza, that can get fairly dirty), which has not given him the popular base enjoyed by other Palestinian politicians such as Barghouti. As prime minister, at one point a poll had his support rating at four percent. Less remarked on are his international assets - his network of powerful contacts, carefully cultivated through the years of Oslo, that included Arab leaders and heads of intelligence services. He has headed the PLO's portfolio on international relations since 1980; in 1988 he also acquired the portfolio for the Occupied Territories to replace the rather unfortunately named Abu Jihad. His detractors also point out, not without cause, unfortunate comments from his youth about the number of Holocaust deaths, and supposed Zionist-Nazi contacts during the war (which he has subsequently recanted). It must be remembered, though, that alone among prominent politicians in his nation he was the first to make contacts with Jewish civil society groups, to denounce the Intifada Al-Aqsa as a mistake, to recognise Israel, and to make risky moves toward final settlement (at Oslo, and again with Yossi Beilin). People must be allowed to improve; and Abu Mazen has.

I will not hesitate to criticise Abbas if he disappoints, but should he fulfill his liberal democratic potentialities, then he will count me as his ardent supporter.
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