Abu Mazen's Gamble
A WONDERFUL SPEECH. A beautiful speech.
The language expressive and elegant. The arguments clear
and convincing. The delivery flawless.
A work of art. The art of hypocrisy. Almost every
statement in the passage concerning the Israeli-
Palestinian issue was a lie. A blatant lie: the speaker
knew it was a lie, and so did the audience.
It was Obama at his best, Obama at his worst.
Being a moral person, he must have felt the urge to
vomit. Being a pragmatic person, he knew that he had to
do it, if he wanted to be re-elected.
In essence, he sold the fundamental national interests
of the United States of America for the chance of a
Not very nice, but that's politics, OK?
IT MAY be superfluous - almost insulting to the reader -
to point out the mendacious details of this rhetorical
Obama treated the two sides as if they were equal in
strength - Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and
But of the two, it is the Israelis - only they - who
suffer and have suffered. Persecution. Exile. Holocaust.
An Israeli child threatened by rockets. Surrounded by
the hatred of Arab children. So sad.
No Occupation. No settlements. No June 1967 borders. No
Naqba. No Palestinian children killed or frightened.
It's the straight right-wing Israeli propaganda line,
pure and simple - the terminology, the historical
narrative, the argumentation. The music.
The Palestinians, of course, should have a state of
their own. Sure, sure. But they must not be pushy. They
must not embarrass the US. They must not come to the UN.
They must sit with the Israelis, like reasonable people,
and work it out with them. The reasonable sheep must sit
down with the reasonable wolf and decide what to have
for dinner. Foreigners should not interfere.
Obama gave full service. A lady who provides this kind
of service generally gets paid in advance. Obama got
paid immediately afterwards, within the hour. Netanyahu
sat down with him in front of the cameras and gave him
enough quotable professions of love and gratitude to
last for several election campaigns.
THE TRAGIC hero of this affair is Mahmoud Abbas. A
tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless.
Many people may be surprised by this sudden emergence of
Abbas as a daring player for high stakes, ready to
confront the mighty US.
If Ariel Sharon were to wake up for a moment from his
years-long coma, he would faint with amazement. It was
he who called Mahmoud Abbas "a plucked chicken".
Yet for the last few days, Abbas was the center of
global attention. World leaders conferred about how to
handle him, senior diplomats were eager to convince him
of this or that course of action, commentators were
guessing what he would do next. His speech before the UN
General Assembly was treated as an event of consequence.
Not bad for a chicken, even for one with a full set of
His emergence as a leader on the world stage is somewhat
reminiscent of Anwar Sadat.
When Gamal Abd-al-Nasser unexpectedly died at the age of
52 in 1970 and his official deputy, Sadat, assumed his
mantle, all political experts shrugged.
Sadat? Who the hell is that? He was considered a
nonentity, an eternal No. 2, one of the least important
members of the group of "free officers" that was ruling
In Egypt, a land of jokes and jokers, witticisms about
him abounded. One concerned the prominent brown mark on
his forehead. The official version was that it was the
result of much praying, hitting the ground with his
forehead. But the real reason, it was told, was that at
meetings, after everyone else had spoken, Sadat would
get up and try to say something. Nasser would good-
naturedly put his finger to his forehead, push him
gently down and say: "Sit, Anwar!"
To the utter amazement of the experts - and especially
the Israeli ones - this "nonentity" took a huge gamble
by starting the 1973 October War, and proceeded to do
something unprecedented in history: going to the capital
of an enemy country still officially in a state of war
and making peace.
Abbas' status under Yasser Arafat was not unlike Sadat's
under Nasser. However, Arafat never appointed a deputy.
Abbas was one of a group of four or five likely
successors. The heir would surely have been Abu Jihad,
had he not been killed by Israeli commandoes in front of
his wife and children. Another likely candidate, Abu
Iyad, was killed by Palestinian terrorists. Abu Mazen
(Abbas) was in a way the choice by default.
Such politicians, emerging suddenly from under the
shadow of a great leader, generally fall into one of two
categories: the eternal frustrated No. 2 or the
surprising new leader.
The Bible gives us examples of both kinds. The first was
Rehoboam, the son and heir of the great King Solomon,
who told his people: "my father chastised you with
whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions". The
other kind was represented by Joshua, the heir of Moses.
He was no second Moses, but according to the story a
great conqueror in his own right.
Modern history tells the sad story of Anthony Eden, the
long-suffering No. 2 of Winston Churchill, who commanded
little respect. (Mussolini called him, after their first
meeting, "a well-tailored idiot."). Upon assuming power,
he tried desperately to equal Churchill and soon
embroiled Britain in the 1956 Suez disaster. To the
second category belonged Harry Truman, the nobody who
succeeded the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt and
surprised everybody as a resolute leader.
Abbas looked like belonging to the first kind. Now,
suddenly, he is revealed as belonging to the second. The
world is treating him with newfound respect. Nearing the
end of his career, he made the big gamble.
BUT WAS it wise? Courageous, yes. Daring, yes. But wise?
My answer is: Yes, it was.
Abbas has placed the quest for Palestinian freedom
squarely on the international table. For more than a
week, Palestine has been the center of international
attention. Scores of international statesmen and -women,
including the leader of the world's only superpower,
have been busy with Palestine.
For a national movement, that is of the utmost
importance. Cynics may ask: "So what did they gain from
it?" But cynics are fools. A liberation movement gains
from the very fact that the world pays attention, that
the media grapple with the problem, that people of
conscience all over the world are aroused. It
strengthens morale at home and brings the struggle a
step nearer its goal.
Oppression shuns the limelight. Occupation, settlements,
ethnic cleansing thrive in the shadows. It is the
oppressed who need the light of day. Abbas' move
provided it, at least for the time being.
BARACK OBAMA's miserable performance was a nail in the
coffin of America's status as a superpower. In a way, it
was a crime against the United States.
The Arab Spring may have been a last chance for the US
to recover its standing in the Middle East. After some
hesitation, Obama realized that. He called on Mubarak to
go, helped the Libyans against their tyrant, made some
noises about Bashar al-Assad. He knows that he has to
regain the respect of the Arab masses if he wants to
recover some stature in the region, and by extension
throughout the world.
Now he has blown it, perhaps forever. No self-respecting
Arab will forgive him for plunging his knife into the
back of the helpless Palestinians. All the credit the US
has tried to gain in the last months in the Arab and the
wider Muslim world has been blown away with one puff.
All for reelection.
IT WAS also a crime against Israel.
Israel needs peace. Israel needs to live side by side
with the Palestinian people, within the Arab world.
Israel cannot rely forever on the unconditional support
of the declining United States.
Obama knows this full well. He knows what is good for
Israel, even if Netanyahu doesn't. Yet he has handed the
keys of the car to the drunken driver.
The State of Palestine will come into being. This week
it was already clear that this is unavoidable. Obama
will be forgotten, as will Netanyahu, Lieberman and the
Mahmoud Abbas - Abu Mazen, as the Palestinians call him
- will be remembered. The "plucked chicken" is soaring
into the sky.
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