Abbas and Israel –– Implications for India

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 17 January 2005

It is not only Bush and Tony Blair that have a direct interest in the peace process between PLO and Israel but the whole world because Iraq is getting into such a big mess that the world economy and stability may well suffer. The UN resolutions on Palestine have been flouted and a US Secretary quoted in Time Magazine stated that without the US, the UN has no meaning. Common sense defies us to predict the future in Iraq and we wonder how free and fair elections can be held in Iraq. Sistani’s Shiite aide has been murdered. Few realise that Iran is a key player in the game, as Iraq's Saddam was earlier, and if Mark Thatcher can play politics in South Africa then we can be sure many more too are doing the same in Iraq.

Arafat died a multi millionaire but Palestinians are a poor lot and Abbas hopes to get more money for the PLO and reduce the power of Hamas and Hezbullah. The Sunni–Shia divide is severe in Iraq and India with Sunnis and Shias and our friend Iran, with more Shias have a direct interest in the peace process for stability in this region. India's defence ties with Israel are very strong and so Indian leaders would have to be soft on Israel. And Israel is a nuclear power. Hence we post below an edited piece from Jodhpur University, which aptly analyses the situation.

Abbas vs. Arafat — Future of Peace Process: A Balance Sheet

Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta & Kartikeya Saran*

Yasser Arafat’s death is said to have removed a great obstacle in the way of peace in the Middle East. His policies, allegedly, left Palestine crippled, with the people resorting to terrorist activities to earn a living. The recently concluded Presidential election on January 9, 2005 held after almost nine years, has raised high hopes among the world community in general and ArabIsrael Community in particular. The election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) by securing a comprehensive victory over his closest opponent Mustafa Barghouti, who secured about 19.7% votes, as against Abbas, who secured about 66.3% of the votes, had a special significance as it marked the end of Yasser Arafat’s reign over Palestine.

As Mahmoud Abbas takes the seat of the Palestinian President, it would be worth reflecting upon some of the policies of Yasser Arafat, and how he proved to be a hindrance in the peace process, as against the often claimed more moderate policies of Abbas. This can be inferred from the new President’s initial reactions to the existing problems. 

Policies of Yasser Arafat

  • He was termed by Israel and the US as being a ‘terrorist’, who welcomed peace process, but not genuine peace. Despite showing that he was committed towards containing terrorist activities, he never stopped the use of weapons, and only prolonged any negotiations which came in the way. This resulted in the gradual repulsion of world sympathy that Palestine once had.

  • Arafat was criticized for having double standards. Whenever he made speeches in English to an International audience he showed signals of peace towards Israel. On the other hand, in his own land and in his own mother tongue Arabic, he spoke of ‘martyrdom’, and encouraged the Palestinians to get back their territory from Israel at all costs.

  • He stuck to his slogan of “revolution until victory”, violating many agreements with Israel and the other Arab states. The Black September of 1970, in which he and his followers were driven out of Jordan, allegedly when their plan of overthrowing King Hussein failed. It is alleged, even after pledging not to interfere in Lebanese affairs, he triggered the uprising which led to the Lebanese Civil War.

  • Arafat seems to have never wanted to negotiate a final agreement, as agreeing to genuine peace would have required concessions from his side, possibly resulting in loss of popularity amongst the masses. This popularity formed the base of his power, and he seemed to prefer power more than anything else, which ultimately made peace impossible in the region.

  • The few agreements which he did enter into were signed because he, as an individual, gained more from them than he lost. The Oslo Peace process (1993) gave him sole leadership of Palestine, and he gained repute amongst the Palestinians. This helped him regain power in Gaza. He signed the Oslo treaty only after Israel made several concessions, including the recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the removal of Israeli troops from Palestinian regions. However, when it came to entering into a final negotiation, he rejected proposals at the July 2000 Camp David Summit, without offering any counterproposals. Instead he launched the second “intifada”, which caused great death and destruction in the region, dashing any hopes of peace.

  • Corruption charges against him resulted in international donors becoming hesitant to provide funds to improve Palestine's economy. This only increased the prevalence of anti-social activities in the region. 

Policies of Mahmoud Abbas

  • Mahmoud Abbas is a moderate, who has always condemned militant activities by the Palestinians. Arafat appointed him Prime Minister, but because of his disapproval of Arafat’s policies of terrorist activism on a number of occasions, Abbas was removed from the Prime Minister’s post.

  • Abbas believes that the only way to achieve Palestinian goals is through peaceful negotiations. These goals, have never been looked upon seriously. Abbas, while addressing the public, said: “We choose peace negotiations as the path toward our rights. We do not want more than our rights.” Such an attitude is what the international community has been wanting for a long time, as it gives positive signals of ‘peace in waiting’ in the region.

  • Abbas’ call for peace and removal of corruption has attracted international donations, which amount to nearly US $1 billion per annum. This is an important step towards the development of Palestine.

  • Abbas has criticized Palestinian attacks on Israel, calling them counterproductive, and a great hindrance to the development of the region. According to him “militarizing” the ‘intifada’ was a “historic mistake” that resulted in more damage to the Palestinians than to the Israelis.

  • On being elected as President, Abbas showed immediate willingness to talk peace with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at any place. Along with that he expressed that he will try his best to stop the activism by Palestinian militants against the Israelis in the Gaza strip, as soon as possible. This gesture has been greatly appreciated by US President, George Bush, who considers Mahmoud Abbas as being a person who is genuinely interested in peace talks, and has invited him to the White House in the near future.

  • Abbas has projected trust in the power of political instruments for resolving conflict rather that on war. He made it clear just after the proclamation of his victory by saying, “I will work to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people for they are a people who deserve our esteem, our respect and our loyalty.”

Reflections of USA

US President George Bush while congratulating Abbas, exclaimed that he wanted to see a free Palestinian state by the end of his second term. He also stressed about having peace in the region, along with an improvement in the economy of the area. According to US administrative officials, there might be a $250 million increase in the annual donation to Palestine. The World Bank called for a doubling of the sum of $1 billion, which comes as aid from all over the world.

Reactions of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, expressed his willingness to renew cooperation with the Palestinians but with a rider that Abbas will be judged by the way he combats terrorism and dismantles militant groups.

Sharon’s ‘Gaza pullout’ plan aims at ‘pulling out’ the 7,500 Jews in the Gaza Strip. He won a slender 5856 majority, and gained Parliamentary approval for a new Cabinet line-up that gives him a working majority to implement his controversial Gaza pullout plan. Abbas is scheduled to attend a conference in London in March 2005, to bolster reform plans and channel fresh funding of up to $8 billion, which would be needed to help regenerate Gaza.

Challenges Before Abbas

Though Abbas is seen as a man to do business with, he also has pressure to stop  terrorist activities by the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza strip. A spokesman for the Hamas militant group, Sami Abu Zuhri, said it would seek to reach “common understandings” with Mr Abbas, but added, “Resistance to occupation will continue and that includes shelling attacks. This is natural.” Thus, Abbas’ will have to battle  Palestinian militants to reach any peace agreement with Israel. The militants wasted no time putting Abbas to his first test, firing several rockets and mortar bombs into Jewish enclaves in southern Gaza and into an Israeli border town, causing damage but no casualties.

Prospects for Future and Imperatives for India

The death of Arafat and subsequent election of Abbas to Presidency has created a high level of optimism, and consequently an enhanced responsibility for the new incumbent. The great lesson that Abbas requires to learn from his experiences with Arafat is evident here, “let not the history of double-standards repeat itself”. This is because during the election campaign, Abbas embraced Palestinian militants, and promised to shield them from Israeli forces. Many feel that by doing this he might make his own way to peace tougher, as this would not encourage curtailment of terrorism in any way.

Therefore, undue optimism must be avoided. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis have shown signs of compromise on fundamental disputes in last many decades of conflict — borders, the future status of Jerusalem, and redress for millions of Palestinian refugees. United States also requires to play a highly constructive role towards brokering durable peace. The recent assurance of Bush that Israel will not have to cede large West Bank settlements might result in the undermining of Abbas and threat to future negotiation for peace. This indeed is not a very hopeful beginning.

Presumably, the election of Abbas might not be as positive a development for Israel, and Sharon, as it seems, because for years, Sharon has been impressing upon the world community that Arafat is the main obstacle to peace. Now that Palestine has a moderate President, the world community has high expectations that Israel must move forward in the interest of both the communities, Israeli and Palestinian. 

However, this presents a doubtful scenario because Israel prefers land to peace. Jimmy Carter, former President of the US, who played a major role as an election observer in the recent election observed, “The one who is opposing the major principle of the road map is the Prime Minister of Israel”, and now Israel will have to move forward with the road-map, again an entity which they had been avoiding for quite sometime. It is expected that Sharon will have to make these moves because of the international pressure likely to be applied on Israel, mainly by the US. 

Sharon’s fears also include the fact that once democracy is established in Palestine, Bush will have achieved a major objective. Thus, Palestine might become the Bush favourite, resulting in US aid to them, and subsequently a free Palestinian state. Not to mention the decline in strategic importance of Israel for the US. Thus, the future has a lot in store for the Middle East. It is upon the leaders of Israel and Palestine to make the path, and hence determine the faith of the region.

India, as a harbinger of peace in the world, too has a positive role to play in the coming days if it claims a permanent seat at the Security Council. India, like Norway, could prop up its diplomatic resources to have a niche for itself in the eyes of international community. This is expected from a country with the second largest population and seventh biggest territory in the world, and is in the process of enhancing its international personality. India has an advantage because there is now a moderate President in Palestine who is awaiting help to achieve peace.

*(Dr. A.K Gupta is Lecturer, Faculty of Policy Sciences, National Law University, Jodhpur and Mr. Kartikeya Saran is a student at the same University)

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