[News] Palestinian Candidates Abbas and Barghouthi: Two Worlds Apart

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Wed Jan 5 19:23:27 EST 2005

Palestinian Presidential Candidates Abbas and Barghouthi: Two Worlds Apart
By Haithem El-Zabri

Al-Jazeerah, January 5, 2005

Presidential elections in occupied Palestine are just 5 days away, and the 
two main contenders – Mahmoud Abbas and Mustafa Barghouthi – are worlds 
apart in what they bring to the Palestinian cause. Below is a comparative 
overview of their backgrounds and positions on the issues, and how the 
international community is responding.

Mahmoud Abbas

Also known as Abu Mazen, Abbas is a founding member of Fateh, and for many 
years has been a very close aide to Yasser Arafat. Abbas was a key 
architect of the Oslo Accords, which benefited Israel and the Palestinian 
leadership, at the expense of the Palestinian people. Israel benefited by 
having the task of policing the Palestinians transferred to the Palestinian 
Authority (PA) - an authority who's power is only what the Israeli state 
will allow it to be. The Tunis-based Palestine Liberation Organization 
benefited by keeping its hold on leadership over the Palestinian people; 
the first intifada, being led from within the occupied territories, 
presented a threat that new activists would lead the Palestinian struggle. 
In their desperate cling to power, Arafat and his cronies made whatever 
compromises were necessary in order to reach some kind of agreement with 
Israel, and presented this to their people as a victory.

Abbas is also the co-author of the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding (1995), 
which bluntly rescinds the Palestinian refugees' right of return to their 
homes in what is now Israel. Article VII, item 1, states that "Whereas the 
Palestinian side considers that the right of the Palestinian refugees to 
return to their homes is enshrined in international law and natural 
justice, it recognizes that the prerequisites of the new era of peace and 
coexistence, as well as the realities that have been created on the ground 
since 1948, have rendered the implementation of this right impracticable." 
Few people seem to realize this, and Abbas continues to get away with his 
promises to the refugees that they will return to their homes "one day"! 
This dishonesty and manipulation is consistent with the PA's repeated 
assurances to the Palestinian people regarding protecting this right, while 
at the same time encouraging and supporting initiatives that did the exact 
opposite, such as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon proposal and the Geneva Accord. The 
Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding also includes severe compromises on many of 
the crucial issues; as Beilin boasted, "They are willing to accept an 
agreement which gives up much land, without the dismantling of settlements, 
with no return to the '67 border, and with an arrangement in Jerusalem 
which is less than municipality level." Israel has pocketed these 
concessions and sought new concessions on subsequent negotiations.

During his prime ministership in 2003, Abbas did very little to highlight 
Palestinian suffering, instead focusing on the actual purpose of the PA - 
to police the Palestinian people and prevent attacks against Israel. This 
was clearly illustrated in Abbas’ speech at Aqaba, where he repeatedly 
reaffirmed his commitment to end the Palestinian armed struggle, referring 
to it as "terrorism," while making no mention of Israel's continued 
onslaught against the Palestinian people. The PA, of which Abbas has always 
been a very high-ranking official, is notorious for the level of corruption 
it embodies. Many industries have been monopolized by PA officials or their 
relatives, senior officials have been granted licenses to import olive oil 
from abroad, making it difficult for Palestinian farmers to sell their oil, 
and one Minister (Ahmed Qurei) was found to be involved in the sale of 
cement to Israel for building the wall! There are also rumors that anyone 
who does not vote for Abbas will not be employed by the PA - currently the 
biggest employer in the occupied territories.

And today, Abbas is again calling for an unconditional end to Palestinian 
armed resistance, and to the Intifada itself. Apparently, he is relying on 
Israel’s benevolence to willingly reach a fair agreement. It is difficult 
to imagine how anyone could be so naïve after all that has happened since 
the Oslo Accord, and especially during Sharon’s reign. Sharon has already 
made clear his vision for a Palestinian "state" - in actuality a prison 
comprising of unconnected bantustans on 10% of historic Palestine - and 
U.S. President Bush has made clear that whatever Sharon wants, Sharon gets. 
Putting the Palestinian cause at the mercy of these two is ridiculous, to 
say the least. The late Dr. Edward Said describes Abbas as follows: "Known 
universally for his "flexibility" with Israel... Abu Mazen is thought of 
generally as colourless, moderately corrupt, and without any clear ideas of 
his own, except that he wants to please the white man." In fact, as analyst 
Daoud Kuttab observed, Abbas has eliminated the political terms “thawabet” 
(immovable issues, such as the right of return and the status of 
Jerusalem), reasoning that politics can’t be frozen and one must be 
flexible. Little wonder then that Abbas is the unrivaled favorite of the 
U.S. and Israel. They have found their man, and this perfect fit gives some 
credence to the suspicion that Arafat was poisoned in order to make way for 
Abbas, thus facilitating the progress of U.S.-Israeli designs for the 
region. Analyst Hasan Abu Nimah warns that "Abbas will soon be served with 
endless lists of impossible demands... [which he] will not be able to 
fulfill... and the region will be back to square one."

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi

In second place, according to the polls, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi offers a 
refreshing and needed change from the PA’s corruption and self-serving 
policies. A physician by profession, Dr. Barghouthi is the founder of the 
Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), which has provided medical care 
and aid to 495 Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps. PMRS 
volunteers have distributed food, water, and emergency first aid services 
to more than 1.3 million Palestinians - this alone is more than the 
Palestinian Authority has ever done for the Palestinian people. Dr. 
Barghouthi is also a human rights activist, involved in grassroots efforts 
for freedom, democracy, national unity, and social justice in Palestine. He 
has advocated for the Palestinian cause for more than 25 years, giving 
eloquent and convincing talks all over the world, presenting the 
Palestinian situation in terms of human rights and international law. And 
throughout these efforts, he has been beaten, arrested, and shot at by the 
Israeli Occupation Forces.

In 2002, Dr. Barghouthi, along with Dr. Edward Said, Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi 
and Ibrahim Dakkak, established the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) 
in order to carry on the struggle for Palestine in a democratic manner that 
involves all segments of Palestinian society. Dr. Said has described this 
initiative as the "only genuine grassroots formation that steers clear both 
of the religious parties and their fundamentally sectarian politics, and of 
the traditional nationalism offered up by Arafat's old (rather than young) 
Fatah activists. PNI does not throw up its hands at the directionless 
militarization of the Intifada. It offers training programs for the 
unemployed and social services for the destitute on the grounds that this 
answers to present circumstances and Israeli pressure. Above all, PNI which 
is about to become a recognized political party, seeks to mobilize 
Palestinian society at home and in exile for free elections -- authentic 
elections which will represent Palestinian, rather than Israeli or US, 
interests. This sense of authenticity is what seems so lacking in the path 
cut out for Abu Mazen."

Dr. Barghouthi currently serves as the Secretary-General of the Initiative. 
And of him, Dr. Said says "Singularly free of conventional rhetoric, 
Barghouthi has worked with Israelis, Europeans, Americans, Africans, 
Asians, Arabs to build an enviably well-run solidarity movement that 
practices the pluralism and co-existence it preaches."

Dr. Barghouthi's electoral program covers all aspects of the Palestinian 
cause; ending the occupation, implementing the International Court of 
Justice's decision to remove both the racist wall and Israeli settlements, 
achieving national unity (within and without the occupied territories), 
sharing Jerusalem as a capital, securing the right of return for all 
refugees, eliminating government corruption, and ensuring the independence 
of the judiciary. In effect, a complete restructuring and democratization 
of Palestinian institutions and society that also invites the diaspora’s 
participation.The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has given 
its endorsement to Dr. Barghouthi, based on agreements on key issues such 
as stressing the “right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel, and 
insisting on full Israeli withdrawal from occupied areas as a pre-condition 
to any peace initiatives. In fact, Dr. Barghouthi has pledged not to sign 
any peace deal without the release of all political prisoners.

Foreign Interference

Israel's treatment of Dr. Barghouthi and his campaigners, when contrasted 
to its handling of the Abbas campaign, provides further evidence to which 
candidate benefits whom. When Dr. Barghouthi campaigned in East Jerusalem, 
he was detained for several hours. Just last week, he was beaten up at an 
Israeli checkpoint for coming to the aid of one of his campaigners who was 
being harassed by the Israeli soldiers. And a few days ago, a 17 year-old 
volunteer was shot dead as he put up campaign posters in a Gaza refugee 
camp. Abbas and his campaigners, on the other hand, enjoy unrestricted 
movement within and without the occupied territories.

The U.S., Britain, and the Arab states have also been actively supporting 
Abbas. U.S. officials have been coordinating with Abbas when an official 
visit might be most suitable to boost him, and British Prime Minister Blair 
has reportedly made his proposed conference contingent on Abbas winning the 
election. Arab leaders also prefer someone who will preserve the status 
quo, and Egyptian President Huns Umbra (who has recently announced his 
confidence in Sharon’s desire for peace) has openly stated his preference 
for Abbas. And of course, the international media has given Abbas immensely 
greater coverage. Dr. Barghouthi notes that the U.S. and Israel "are trying 
to force a particular candidate on us. It's very strange, because all the 
people who are running as candidates in these coming elections are 
pro-peace: so why would they prefer one person to another? If they are just 
looking for someone who will give in to them, then that person will fail to 
represent the Palestinian people. I am planning to represent our people, 
not anybody else's interests."

In fact, if the Palestinian people are to have a leadership that truly 
represents their needs and aspirations, Dr. Barghouthi is the one to trust.

* Haithem El-Zabri is a Los Angeles-based activist and the editor of 
Alaqsaintifada.org. For special coverage of the Palestinian elections, 
please see <http://www.alaqsaintifada.org>www.alaqsaintifada.org.

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