WILL THE REAL ABU MAZEN
PLEASE STAND UP?

By Michael Widlanski

Does the Palestinian Arab press know something that the Israeli press does not know?

Even as the Hebrew press headlined the remarks of Mahmoud Abbas (nickname Abu-Mazen) calling for an end to the "Intifada," the Arab press, especially the Palestinian press, ignored the "news" item.

When "Haaretz" wrote in its lead headline (Dec. 15, 2004) "Abu Mazen: The Use of Weapons in the Current Intifada has hurt us and has to stop," Radio "Sawt Filasteen" "Voice of Palestine"-- the official mouthpiece of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), kept completely quiet. When "Yediot" and "Maariv" extensively covered and featured the remarks of Abu-Mazen (which were made to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," an Arab newspaper published in London), official Palestinian television and the daily newspapers ignored the event.

So what does this mean? Who got it right the Israeli Hebrew press or the Palestinian Arab press?

It seems that the Arab press was right, if only for professional journalistic reasons.

After all, PLO Chairman Abu Mazen has said exactly the same thing or almost exactly the same thing several times before. In March 2003, he said the same thing to the same Arab newspaper in London when he was Prime Minister-presumptive of the PNA. He said almost identical things to the Jordanian newspaper "Al-Ra'i" in September 2003, and I have personally heard him say similar things on several Arab television stations in Lebanon and the Gulf. Indeed, Dr. Abbas made very similar remarks at the Aqaba Summit on June 4, 2003, and then he quickly "explained" his remarks in a susbsequent "special press conference" held for the Arab press.

One therefore has to ask what is the real importance of the remarks of Dr. Abbas (Abu-Mazen).

First, we must stress that the Arab press's disregard of the "moderate" remarks of the current PLO Chairman concerning the "current Intifada" are not part of a desire to ignore Abu-Mazen, the successor to Yasser Arafat. Quite the contrary! On the same morning (Dec. 15, 2004), Radio Voice of Palestine opened its broadcasts with extensive quotations from the new PLO Chairman who was touring Gulf countries. In fact, the radio as well as official PA television quoted Abu-Mazen's strong opposition to any kind of limitations of the Palestinian "right of return." The Palestinian media asserted that Abu-Mazen said and with him the entire PLO/PA leadership that they would not tolerate leaving any Palestinian refugees inside Arab countries.

It appears, then, that a careful examination of Abu-Mazen's remarks tothe Arab newspaper in London as well as other recent remarks shows that Abu-Mazen does not oppose violence against Israelis from a moral or ideological perspective. Rather, he opposes some violence only from a "pragmatic" or "utilitarian" perspective. And then only for a short time.

Dr. Abbas believes that the Palestinian-Israeli War of Attrition has done more harm than good to the Palestinians. In other words, Abu-Mazen opposes using bullets and bombs against Israeli civilians inside "The Green Line." And he opposes this use of ammunition for reasons of "profit and loss."

In the current interview in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" as in earlier interviews Abu-Mazen has been very consistent on several points.

1. The "Intifada" is a legitimate form of "resistance to occupation," and it should continue, but without bombs and bullets;

2. Abu Mazen supports attacking soldiers and settlers everywhere;

3. Dr. Abbas opposes for the time being attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel because it such attacks are "counterproductive to Palestinian interests."

On the same morning that the Israeli press praised Abu-Mazen for his "moderation," the senior anchorman of Voice of Palestine, Nizar al-Ghul called the attack on the Israeli border checkpoint in Gaza a "resistance operation." The radio anchorman also proudly claimed that the "resistance operation" was carried out by the FATAH (headed by Arafat and Abbas) and the HAMAS (the Islamic Resistance Movement) with whom Abbas has been negotiating.

Is this the real meaning of "Palestinian unity" so sought by Abu-Mazen?

The Voice of Palestine radio anchorman's remarks on the "resistance operation" were the lead-in to the morning headlines. The day earlier, Voice of Palestine and PA Television called the tunnel bombers "mustash-hedeen" "heroic martyrs" in Arabic.

It appears possible that Dr. Abbas (who got his Ph.d from the Soviet "Patrice Lumumba University" on the subject of "Relations between Zionism and Nazism") is not only the formal successor to Yasser Arafat but a willing and eager student anxious to apply Arafat's methods of sending multiple messages to multiple (and sometimes gullible) audiences in different locations and in different languages. Dr. Abbas, who wears a suit rather than the military uniform of Arafat, has a more refined and subtle style than his mentor, but it seems likely that their ideological content is similar, if not identical.

We will surprise ourselves a lot less if we study the words and methods of the new Palestinian leadership. Perhaps, we might even discover that when it comes to the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees living in Arab countries for 50 years that Abu-Mazen and Abu 'Ala (Ahmad Qreia) may actually have a tougher line than the Egyptian-born Arafat.

Dr. Michael Widlanski, who teaches Political Communication at the Hebrew University's Rothberg School, has researched the Palestinian media for nearly a decade.


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