Bitterlemons (Interview)
November 5, 2009 - 1:00am

bitterlemons: In the past week we've twice heard reports that Mahmoud Abbas is considering not running for re-election. How serious do you think this is?

Zeidani: As far as Abu Mazen [Abbas] personally is concerned, I don't think he is interested in another term. He has expressed his desire to step down and I think he is sincere. The question is whether he will be allowed by his own Fateh faction to do so. I think there will be pressure on him to stay and run for another term.

bitterlemons: Why?

Zeidani: The movement is split, it's not as unified as it should be and there continues to be infighting and intrigue. I think it would be difficult for Fateh members to unite around another candidate. I cannot single out any one candidate that could unify Fateh behind him. Abu Mazen, because of his affinity with Arafat and his history, was a natural candidate when Arafat passed away. There is no one similar at the moment.

bitterlemons: Why now? What has led Abbas to this position?

Zeidani: First, he is not a young man; we're talking about someone in his seventies. He is disappointed as far as the peace process is concerned. Also, he is not the kind of politician that can handle the severe criticism from the many different directions that he's been exposed to, whether from his own movement, Hamas or beyond. All this comes in the absence of any real progress in the peace process.

bitterlemons: How large a part of this threatened resignation is about sending signals to the outside world concerning his disappointment?

Zeidani: It plays a part. The Americans, Europeans and Israelis are all interested in seeing Abu Mazen continue because of his stand against armed resistance and for peaceful negotiations.

bitterlemons: In case he does decide not to stand for re-election, what would be the consequences, particularly in his own party?

Zeidani: I think we have to look at the leadership of the national movement in two parts. First there will be a contest for the leadership of the PLO. Then there will be a contest for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. I can see the two positions being divided between two different leaders. There are no emerging leaders who can occupy the two positions together.

The Fateh movement will fight on both tracks, which might be good for the movement. The competition for top posts could perhaps solve some of the infighting in the party. But there will be a fierce struggle for succession.

bitterlemons: What effect might the absence of Abbas have on unity negotiations with Hamas?

Zeidani: The agreement with Hamas has to do more with who will lead the PLO after it has been reformed to include Hamas. I think any new leader of the PLO will come from, if not Fateh, than someone independent but close to Fateh. This might be key, to find a candidate that is acceptable to Hamas and other factions. But while it is possible to talk about qualities, it's harder to find the names.

bitterlemons: But would the absence of Abbas make it harder or easier to strike a unity agreement?

Zeidani: I don't think Abbas is the issue. Hamas' demands are clear. It wants its share within the PLO structure and there are disagreements about that share. I think Hamas is very interested in the PLO structure, because that can help cover some of its internal contradictions. If Hamas has its share in the PLO structure as well as the PA, without necessarily leading it, there can be agreement.

bitterlemons: Would Fateh win elections without Abbas?

Zeidani: I don't think Fateh will win any elections without a leader who can appeal to independents and undecided voters. The same goes for Hamas, for that matter. For president, at least, it will more likely be an independent, whether supported by Fateh or Hamas.

bitterlemons: What effect would Abbas' absence have on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Zeidani: I don't believe in the unique power of individuals. Individuals make a difference, but this has to be qualified. Negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis will not be radically affected. There are all kinds of more important factors, for example, whether there is violence or no violence and what sort of violence prevails. Abbas has supported the peaceful non-violent way, but it hasn't worked. The American position has proven not only disappointing, but insulting to him.-


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