The American Interest

A Glimmer of Hope in the Holy Land

Mahmoud Abbas’s convincing victory in the Palestinian presidential election on January 9 provided a piece of good news in an otherwise somber Middle Eastern landscape.  Often described as an old Fatah apparatchik with little charisma and popularity, Abbas managed to win 62 percent of the 775,000 votes cast in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, with about one half of all eligible voters taking part.  His closest challenger, the leftist independent Mustafa Barghuthi, came in second with one fifth of the vote; five also-rans divided the remaining 18 percent.

The man known to his followers as Abu Mazen is, in Palestinian terms, a moderate, which means that he advocates a two-state solution and realizes that “the right of return” of 1948 refugees is a tradeable political commodity, not a program.  He now has an unexpectedly sound mandate to pursue the pragmatic course that marked his four months as prime minister in 2003.  He needs to use that mandate to help revive the stalled peace process, to rein in the militants, and to reform the corrupt and inefficient Palestinian Authority (PA).

All three tasks will entail making unpopular decisions that may soon erode his standing and elicit resistance from the old Arafat loyalists whose support Abbas will need to be successful.  That standing will depend entirely on what he can deliver to his people—and how quickly. ...

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