Jewish World Review Jan 13, 2005/ 3 Shevat 5765
Richard Z. Chesnoff
At last, a chance for peace
There were no televised debates, an underwhelming turnout and charges of serious ballot stuffing. But the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian leader is one of the first promising signs Palestinians and Israelis have seen in many a Mideast moon.
Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, is a well-educated, decidedly uncharismatic millionaire businessman with a pragmatic mind of his own. He was one of the few top-ranking Palestinians to publicly call for an end to violence. And while he may invoke his predecessor's name (as an election gimmick, say his defenders), he openly defied Yasser Arafat - even resigning from the Palestinian premiership rather than toeing the Arafat line.
Will Abbas succeed? That depends on his guts. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has indicated willingness to work with Abbas, but Sharon will drive his heels into the sand if he doesn't see some serious progress toward security.
Exactly what does the new president have to do?
* Immediately clamp down on terror organizations. Bloody gangs like Hamas and even the Al Aqsa brigades, linked to Abbas' own Fatah movement, remain the primary challenge to peace. Unless Abbas swiftly disarms and dismembers them and/or co-opts them into his own security forces, talk of peace and improved conditions remain illusions.
* Ensure an end to Kassam rocket attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers and urban dwellers.
* Clean up the fiscal mess. That means ending the corruption that robbed Palestinians (and nations that sent them aid) of billions that could have gone to housing, hospitals and an improved life.
* Reform the Palestinian educational and propaganda systems so that new generations are not taught that becoming suicide bombers is a noble ambition. Teach that Israel not only exists, but has a right to exist and that the best future is to share the Holy Land in two separate states.
* Steadily but swiftly ease the Palestinian people into forgetting about the "right of return." Instead, the emphasis should be on resettlement in Palestine and in Arab countries and a system of monetary compensation.
This would all be a provocative start and a further incentive for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory. Those of us who've observed the Mideast for a long time have become fearful of enthusiasm and hope. The euphoria that greeted the handshake between the late Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat quickly slipped away.
Abbas has a new slate. I hope his handwriting is good.
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JWR contributor and veteran journalist
Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News
And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at
the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of
Demoracies. A two-time
winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press
Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe
Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )
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