On his visit to Washington DC last week, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, was addressed by his formal name and not by his nickname, "Abu Mazen" . He was treated in the White House as the President of a State, unlike his predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat. After meeting with President Abbas, I became aware that there is a marked difference between the treatment the Palestinians currently receive in the corridor of power in Washington and how they were previously treated. With a new title and a new man in charge, the Palestinians are no longer lead by the head of a liberation movement. Instead, for the first time in history, their leader is an accomplished statesman.
With Mahmuod Abbas, the Palestinian cause has matured from its teenage years as a movement to its adulthood as a state. This is reflected in the way the world”s only super power welcomed President Abbas on his latest visit and in the amount of aid, 50 million US$, it granted the Palestinian Authority.
Before I talk about the results of this landmark visit, I hope the reader will pardon my digression on how President Abbas” image has changed in the eyes of the US leadership.
For a start, the Palestinian leader acquired the respect oh his American hosts by respecting himself and choosing to speak solely in Arabic on his visit, despite being more proficient in the use of the English language that US President George W, Bush himself. By doing so, Abbas averted the trap that his predecessor, President Yasser Arafat, repeatedly fell into, namely speaking English in an undignified manner which demonstrated to his hosts and that world that the Palestinian leader was not a respectful person. For it is true, as Socrates himself once said "Speak so that I can see you", a person is defined by the way they speak. If one is to speak in an unrefined manner, or were one will be treated as such. Abbas was received as a head of state and he, indeed, acted like one.
There also seems to be a plan, by those close to the Palestinian President to stop using his nickname, Abu Mazen, to refer to the leader. If it is true, this move has move has all my support, given that, in these days, the "Abu" part of the nickname is strongly associated with terrorism and codenames, rather than governments and officials.
Everyone is familiar with the names, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Abu Qutadah, Abu Fraj Al Liby, and other terrorists. The nickname "Abu Mazen" is not appropriate for matters of government and should no be employed in official matters relating to the President. It is perfectly possible to use nicknames with relatives in villages and cities, but definitely not in the corridors of power. The Palestinian leader”s nickname invites the listener to establish a link between the Palestinian liberation movement and the State of Palestine, and between resistance and terrorism. I hope that other Arab leaders will soon also give up using the nickname "Abu Mazen", and instead, refer to the Palestinian leader as "President Mahmoud Abbas". Only then will the Palestinian movement truly mature and become a state.
In Washington, last week, I was seated next to the Palestinian President, and listened carefully to what he said. Abbas was optimistic about his meetings in the White House. He looked relaxed, perhaps because President Bush publicly referred to him as "the brave man" and declared that he was elected by the Palestinian people on the basis of a "Peace Platform" with Israel. But there is more to Abbas” confidence.
I believe that the Palestinian leader was able to obtain guarantees from President Bush that supplant those given earlier to the visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In effect, the US leader emphasized the importance of the 1949 borders in the creation of an independent Palestinian State and stressed the necessity to eliminate settlements in the Occupied Territories. Of course, President Abbas is under no illusions as to the difficulty of future negotiations; he knows too well that bilateral talks will be exhausting. He is not deluded as to the personality of Sharon, his partner in peace. The Israeli Prime Minister is, indeed, a very difficult man, but it is necessary to deal with him to reach a pre settlement phase, while waiting for a new leadership that is more eager for peace.
President Abbas had additional reasons to be hopeful. According to a source present at their meeting, President Bush told the Palestinian leader the story behind the appointment of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State. Apparently, Rice told her President she would accept the post on one condition: that he give her full reign to formulate a solution to the Palestinian- Israeli problem so as to realize the Palestinian dream of an independent state, as well as achieve security for the Israelis. Rice also demanded that, by the end of his second term in office, Bush sign a peace treaty between the Palestinians and Israel that fulfils each side”s aspirations. Bush immediately replied to Rice that, "if this is your belief and a peaceful solution your target, then you are the new Secretary of State."
One can infer, from the above conversation that President Bush intends to leave a legacy behind. Perhaps he wishes to be remembered as the President who solved the Palestinian problem and gave them an independent state.
For the Palestinians to get their country, they will to work very hard. A first step in the right direction is to unite behind the new President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the civilized representative of Palestine. He is essentially a statesman and not the leader of a liberation movement. He has neither worn a military suit nor kept a gun by his side. As a statesman, on his visit to Washington, he received the respect reserved to world leaders and represented the change from revolution statehood.
Mahmoud Abbas did not need regional tutelage to receive his invitation to the White House. The Palestinian leader has the respect of his US counterpart and, thus, does not need any intermediaries. Yet, the Bush administration needs to do more to support the Palestinians. The money it has promised to donate to the Palestinian authority doesn”t even ensure drinking water for Gaza and Ramallah! It is only with US political backing that the Palestinian President will be able to tilt the balance of power away from radicalism and revolution to that of maturity and government. This requires not just support, rather continuous support.
President Bush wants a democratic model in the region. In this respect, I say to the US leader that "Palestine is the ideal you seek, and it can be achieved faster than in Iraq, with fewer resources." If the US administration spent on Palestine a quarter of what it currently spends in Iraq, the democracy Bush speaks of would be a reality. The Palestinians are better educated that the rest of the Arab World and, perhaps, closer to democratic practices than any other nation in the region. Palestine, I believe, is what Bush is searching for in the Middle East, if only he looked carefully enough and put pressure on the Israeli side to give the Palestinian people their freedom.
For their part, the Palestinians ought to abandon the immaturity of
revolution in favour of the rationality of a nation that deserves its own state. They should cease to be delighted by small insignificant successes and silently wait for the ultimate victory, the creation of an independent Palestine. As I”ve discussed, this will be achieved by respecting their own language, discarding nicknames, preferring life over death, as well as abandoning the nickname of "Abu Mazen" to refer to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.