Like a veteran baseball pitcher who keeps opponents and fans guessing
mixing fastballs, curves and sliders, Mahmoud Abbas continues to
observers who try to read his intentions.
On the night of his election two weeks ago, Abbas spoke of peace
urging the Palestinians forward towards their "biggest Jihad"-a term
commonly means "holy war" in Arabic.
As Abbas completes his second week in both shoes of Yasser Arafat-
as President of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the PLO-he
already amassed a formidable repertoire of mixed messages, among them:
*---Calling for peace, while calling Israel "the Zionist Enemy";
*--Declaring a need to end "weapons anarchy," while he and his top
openly advocate attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers in "occupied
territory" as acts of legitimate "resistance";
*-- And urging an end to the "militarization of the Intifada" while
offering jobs to the most militant "militarists" within the
community-the Islamic terrorists of HAMAS and the "Martyrs Brigade"
own Fatah organization.
"Our stance is very clear," asserted Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, the
Cabinet secretary appearing on Palestinian state television this
resistance has to be in Israeli-occupied lands," said the dark-haired
Abdul-Rahman who has been one of the two or three closest advisors
Abbas and Arafat.
When the Palestinian state television anchorman seemed confused by
words of Abdul-Rahman, who regularly sits at the elbow of Abbas at
meetings, the cabinet secretary explained: "Within the occupied
we can use any means necessary to get Israel out."
Mr. Abbas did not make any public comment scolding Mr. Abdul-Rahman
his remarks on Tuesday, and both Palestinian television and several
Palestinian newspapers showed Mr. Abdul-Rahman sitting alongside
Abbas the following day at a public meeting in Ramallah.
Yet at the same time that such comments are aired on the Palestinian
media by Abbas´s closest aides, the state television has also called
citizens not to walk around with unlicensed weapons.
"We will not treat lightly incidents of citizens taking the law into
their own hands," a television anchorman said, reading an official
announcement. His comments were read following a clash between rival
militias in Gaza.
While such pronouncements about not firing weapons indiscriminately
about not carrying unauthorized weapons can certainly be seen as a
towards law and order, they are certainly not an unambiguous call to
Still, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of rocket and
attacks from Gaza into towns and kibbutzim along the pre-1967
Israel in the last few days.
On the other hand, there has been a much more partial let-up in the
mortar and shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the
Bank and Gaza.
Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and other Israeli
officials have heaped great public praise on Abbas for trying to rein
Palestinian attacks, even as they privately believe that Abbas has
than what is needed to stop the violence. But they are keeping their
concerns quiet lest they be accused of undermining Abbas, who is
by the affectionate nickname "Abu-Mazen."
Indeed, many Israeli security experts see Abbas as a man walking a
tightrope between various Palestinian factions and Israeli security
Israel does not want to be blamed if he falls off the tightrope.
From their point of view, the Palestinian officials around Abbas are
shy about blaming Israel ahead of time for any potential pitfalls.
"We expect Israel to stop violence against Palestinians in all its
forms," declared Negotiations Minister Saeb Arikat in an interview
with Voice of Palestine radio in Arabic. Although Arikat could also
issued a call for Palestinians to "stop violence against Israelis in
forms," neither he nor any other Palestinian official has chosen to
Instead he and Abbas have "condemned" Israel for killing one armed
Palestinian terrorist and arresting two others this week who,
Israel, were in the process of carrying out a terror attack on Israel
base in the northern part of the West Bank. Neither Abbas nor Arikat
challenged the accuracy of the Israeli assertion about the terror
rather the legitimacy of Israeli actions inside Palestinian areas.
Indeed, Abbas, Arikat and their colleagues have taken a testy and
sometimes overtly hostile line against both Israel and the United
States-both of which have transferred money and offered other
since Abbas´s election. However, Abbas and his colleagues have
said "give us more and make it fast, or else."
"We are concerned about a mutual ceasefire, and the Israelis have to
answer us quickly," declared Abbas, whose remarks were quoted in
(Jan 28) issue of the Fatah newspaper Al-Ayyam. There was no mention
fact that Abbas and his security people have suffered delays in
their forces in Gaza and have not even begun to deploy in the West
where Israel has been making periodic arrests of suspected terrorists.
Even as US President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza
have praised the Palestinian election as a tremendous achievement,
as they have invited President Abbas to the United States, the
state media regularly refer to the "American occupation army" in Iraq.
When an American soldier dies in Iraq, the death is often recorded
a terminology usually reserved for Israeli soldiers and "settlers"
said to have "met their fate" or "met their ruin" (laqiya masirahu or
laqiya masra´ahu in Arabic)-in other words-gotten what they deserved.
A cartoon in today´s Al-Ayyam newspaper intimates that America is
to impose its will on Iraq and the Arab world-a theme that repeats
regularly in the Palestinian newspapers. "Vote for the Candidate of
Left," and "Vote for the Candidate of the Right" says the cartoon
Bush as the candidate of eight different parties.
The cartoons of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are much worse.
often depicted as a child-eating butcher or a killer tsunami in the
state-controlled Palestinian newspapers.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, former reporter for Cox Newspapers and The New
Times, teaches political communication at the Rothberg School of
University, Jerusalem. He has recently completed a study of the
elections for the Center for Near East Policy Research entitled "The
of the Palestinian President 2005." It can be read at