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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Daniel Drezner Is Non-Euphoric

He is not sure that, in the great Arafat-Abbas struggle to create a new government, Abbas represents hope and change. Ah, but when he sees this story from the NY Times (published prior to the last-minute deal was struck accepting the Abbas cabinet), his last hope will fail.

...While relying on international support, Mr. Abbas has made little effort to rally the public. He was a founder with Mr. Arafat of the mainstream Fatah movement, but he stayed for 40 years in the shadow of his charismatic friend and rival, and he has slim experience as a politician.

...Mr. Abbas has for now acquired the image of the candidate of the Americans and Israelis, as a consequence of Mr. Arafat's maneuvering, his own strategy and American and Israeli statements of support.

Having resolved other disputes, the two men have been at odds for several days over the appointment of one minister, Muhammad Dahlan, a security official from the Gaza Strip. The United States and Israel have pressed for Mr. Dahlan's appointment, believing that he will act to stop Palestinian violence.

Making Mr. Dahlan the focus has shaped the debate to benefit Mr. Arafat, by making Mr. Abbas appear more interested in achieving security for Israel and ending the armed uprising than in wringing concessions for Palestinians, improving their government and pursuing their national goals.

As he assembled his cabinet, Mr. Abbas had appeared intent on avoiding a public face-off with Mr. Arafat. In private meetings over the last month, he assured Palestinians that he had no plans to threaten Mr. Arafat's authority. He tried to compromise on his government, picking as ministers some of Mr. Arafat's allies and some men widely seen as corrupt or incompetent.

But Mr. Arafat then chose to confront Mr. Abbas over the list, and the reformers in the Palestinian Legislative Council who might have rallied to Mr. Abbas were too disappointed by his compromises to do so. Few seem willing to fight for this prime minister now.

"The present structure of the government, and his political program, will not find support within the P.L.C.," said Hatem Abdul Qader, a member of the parliament from Fatah. "It doesn't meet the P.L.C. criteria for reforms."

So, Abbas has lost the support of the locals and the reformers. But he is is cleverly positioned as Sharon's man in Palestine. It just keeps getting better.

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