The First challenge facing Abu Mazen is a ceasefire – What to do?

As we have expected before the 9th of January, Mahmood Abbas (Abu Mazen) scored a victory and was elected President of the Palestinian National Authority.

What was not expected by many however, especially in Israeli circles, was that the Palestinian people would succeed in showing their true civilized and democratic image, and erase on January 9th all the distorted images anti-Palestinian media had been showing around the world.

Military factions acted with discipline, security and calm prevailed, and Palestinians headed in an energetic and orderly fashion towards polling booths and voted, then left with calm and order still prevailing. The results were announced, those who lost the election race congratulated Abu Mazen on winning and work began.

The Palestinian people won. The 9th of January 2005 marked the beginning of a new era of democracy in the Arab world –” one which will soon become a model Arab countries will try to follow.

We had expected Abu Mazen to face both interrelated and independent challenges alike. At the head of these challenges we mentioned the security challenge which is related to another challenge; returning to political negotiations to implement the roadmap, not allowing the disengagement plan proposed by Sharon to be the one and only plan, and not having the withdrawal of the occupation forces from the Gaza Strip a step for the occupation army to tighten its control over the West Bank.

Though this challenge may connect and relate to other challenges like imposing the rule of the law, dealing wisely with internal situations and reforming institutions etc, it is still the challenge that comes first in chronological order.

Israeli officials, including Sharon, Shalom and Mofaz, declared even before Abu Mazen’s victory was announced that dealing and negotiating with him is based on his ability to destroy the infrastructure of what they call “terrorism”. After Abu Mazen’s victory the Israeli officials specified this condition.

Extensive contacts are taking place now between the Palestinian Negotiations Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and Palestinian security services on one side and Israeli officials on the other to arrange the first meeting between Abu Mazen and Sharon since 2003.

This meeting will be arranged within the next 10 days, but it is expected that it will be limited to generalities and Sharon’s insistence on seeing tangible steps of striking against terrorism before negotiations on any topic can begin.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, who supervised the Palestinian elections, informed Sharon of President’s Bush’s desire to give Abu Mazen an opportunity to begin a new phase. This was confirmed by a number of Senate members who arrived in the region and held meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. It was further confirmed by the Democratic candidate for the US elections John Kerry, who visited Damascus, Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

President Bush, who praised Palestinian democracy and the integrity of the elections and congratulated Abu Mazen on winning and invited him to visit the White House, did not refer at all to the implementation of the roadmap or beginning negotiations more comprehensive than Sharon’s disengagement plan. Instead Bush referred to the need for Israel to commit to implementing the disengagement plan and the need for the Palestinian Authority to fight “an armed minority seeking the destruction of the state of Israel”; that is, what Sharon calls destroying terrorism.

The congratulations that came for Abu Mazen from various international parties did not touch on the topic of beginning negotiations to implement the roadmap, except for the European Union’s political chief Javier Solana.

From this we understand that Israel and the US expect Abu Mazen to organize the ranks of the Palestinian security services and work on stopping military action before an exchange of opinions can take place regarding the return to negotiations to implement the roadmap.

This challenge will be the most difficult challenge to be faced by Abu Mazen, especially in light of the reactions of armed factions to Abu Mazen’s win after he focused on the need to end the militarization of the Intifada during the election campaign.

Spokesmen for these factions have announced that they will continue in armed struggle, and that Abu Mazen’s success does not mean that the Palestinian people have authorized him to take any decisions he wants, and that Abu Mazen should remember that “he succeeded because a contender was not nominated to run against him.”

This challenge faces Abu Mazen strongly and persistently. On the one hand we see that Israel and the US have defined stopping terrorism as a precondition for beginning negotiations, and on the other Abu Mazen has to be loyal to the pledge he made to the Palestinian people of negotiating until an end to the occupation is reached.

But how can Abu Mazen deal with this challenge?

Naturally the safest path, and the one more capable of preserving the unity of the Palestinian people, is the path of dialogue, which seems to have reached a dead end in light of the declared positions of the armed factions.

The second path is the use of force to impose an end to military operations. This is a dangerous path. The Palestinians will not accept to have trouble ignited between their ranks and among brothers. Abu Mazen himself considered this a “red line”.

In our opinion Abu Mazen should move firmly and swiftly in the following directions:

First: to come to a agreement with the Prime Minister to hasten the process of rehabilitating, re-equipping and reuniting the Palestinian security services so they may carry out their task of imposing law and order and put an end to the weapons chaos (which is what was agreed upon by all factions), open the doors of security services to include armed members of all factions under the official laws and controls of the security services (Al-Aqsa Brigades have announced their approval of this), and that these new members of the security services benefit from training courses, modern equipment and the salaries of officers of the security services.

Second: That Abu Mazen asks the US to secure a pledge from Israel to stop all military operations when the Palestinian Authority reaches an agreement with all the armed factions to stop military operations. This way the ceasefire will be mutual, which is what the factions demanded during the dialogue in Gaza three months ago.

At that time Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Abu Alaa can use the US pledge as a persuasion tool when the dialogue between the Palestinian Authority and the armed factions is done.

Third: That Abu Mazen begins to use the regional factor to pressurize the armed factions to agree to an end to military operations. This is an important factor if we take into consideration the ties these factions have with certain Arab countries such as Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and some countries of the Arab Gulf.

Fourth: That the Palestinian Authority persistently demand that the billions needed for rebuilding and repairing the infrastructure destroyed by Israel be allocated. This will create many jobs and will improve the economic situation. Unemployment and the deterioration of the economic situation have made it easy for factions to recruit large numbers of workers for reasons of livelihood not ideology.

The path of using force is rejected because it could escalate in a painful and tragic way –” something everyone rejects.

This is what the list of challenges facing Abu Mazen begins with. The other challenges have suggested solutions which will be discussed each in its own time.