Say what you may about the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, but supporters and opponents agree on one thing: he is consistent.
Abbas might lack of charisma and the ability to drastically change public opinion or the direction of world leaders, but everyone today can attest to the man’s consistency. He is consistently against violence, in favour of the two-state solution and generally a democrat at heart. His word is his honour. What he says he fulfills and his political philosophy and methodology do not include the typical game politicians play: saying one thing and meaning another.
In order to accomplish his goals, Abbas seems to be rather patient. He waits out his opponents until they come around to his point of view. This policy is not always successful. The fact that he is consistent and patient does not necessarily mean that his opponents will respond in kind.
Abbas did not budge on the need for a settlement freeze as a necessary step to begin serious negotiations with Israel. He also held his ground when it came to the reconciliation with Hamas. On the latter, his policy seemed to succeed, possibly with a little help from the Arab youth uprisings, the special relationship between Egypt’s military leader and Iran, as well as the trouble that Syria is facing.
The Palestinian president is a democrat at heart. Both his supporters and his opponents know this about him. When he agreed to hold parliamentary elections in 2005, many counselled him to postpone them, but he refused to back down. Abbas headed the demands of young Fateh cadres for internal elections and held the sixth congress that his predecessor Yasser Arafat had repeatedly postponed.
Abbas also insisted that once new elections take place he will not run for office. Many thought his statement last year on the issue was a gimmick. But he repeated the same position Tuesday to the Fateh Revolutionary Council.
Those who know Abbas know that he is serious about not running again for the position of president of the Palestinian Authority. He might stay head of the PLO’s Executive Committee, but it is clear to all that once elections do take place in the coming year, as per the reconciliation agreement, someone other than Abbas will be listed as a nominee for president.
Being consistent has advantages and disadvantages for a political leader. It gains him points with his people, but it makes it difficult to be successful in a political landscape that is rarely bound by consistency or any code of honour.
Abbas’ consistency creates major problems for Israeli propagandists who used Arafat’s political trickery to portray him as dishonest and untrustworthy. Not that Israeli defenders worldwide don’t try to scrutinise Abbas’ words and those of the Palestinian Authority. A detailed search of the anti-Palestinian propaganda these days shows that at the most, they succeeded in defaming Palestinians by quoting pro-PA newspapers or by taking recordings from Palestine TV out of context.
While Western leaders have warmed up to Abbas and have been pleased with his consistency and demeanour, the Israelis neither recognised nor rewarded Abbas for this consistency and honesty.
US President Barack Obama, who seems to have warm feelings for Abbas, has also failed to properly recognise or politically reward Abbas for being a man of his words and a moderate leader who is consistent in his efforts for peace. The last time someone in the White House called a leader in the Middle East a man of peace was George Bush’s, who made the controversial statement that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was a man of peace.
If Abbas, as expected, will not participate in the presidential elections due to take place no later than next May, the region will have less than 12 months to take advantage of a Palestinian leader who is true to his word and consistent in his desire for peace.