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From the August 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 8)

Middle East Road Map

Abu Mazen’s Ultimate Test

Hatzofeh (right-wing, religious), Tel Aviv, Israel, June 10, 2003

Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t have control over the Palestinian Authority (PA). If anyone had any doubt, the latest events proved it again: The leaders of the PA openly declared their reservations about Mazen’s clear determination to open direct “peace talks” with Israel, with the United States acting as mediator. They also criticized him for taking part in the Aqaba summit, side by side with [Israel’s Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon, while ignoring the guidelines that call on the Palestinians to continue their war against the Jewish state.
                                                                                                                
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who supports Abu Mazen behind the scenes, nevertheless encourages people to stand up to him. The PA’s stance against the Palestinian prime minister is led by the head of the PA and his close circle. Abu Mazen is aware of this, but he doesn’t dare take any hard steps against Arafat. For the time being, he prefers to take the road to reconciliation in the hope that, in doing so, he’ll be able to overcome his opponents.

Upon his return from the Aqaba summit, Abu Mazen took the initiative, with the help of Egypt, to meet with his opponents, hoping that he would be able to explain to them face to face the agreement he had reached with Israel. If we can judge by the reactions of the Palestinian leaders, it seems that there is no chance that the PA will change its stance. Nonetheless, Abu Mazen hopes that a change for the better will occur in the next few days and that he will win the support of the majority of the Palestinians in his policy to continue negotiations with Israel’s government.

Israel, for its part, abstained from reacting harshly to the latest attack on the Erez post in northern Gaza and in Hebron, where four soldiers were killed, in order to allow Mazen to regroup and regain control. [On June 10, Israel attempted and failed to assassinate militant Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi.—WPR]

If it becomes clear that Abu Mazen doesn’t have the power to rule, Israel would have to take steps to guarantee its safety. All of the agreements reached in Aqaba would then be null and void, and Israel wouldn’t be held to them. The Palestinian prime minister is not the only one who should be aware of this. We should bring it to the attention of our friends, the Americans.

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