Mahmoud Abbas: The Luckiest Man in the Levant

I recently had the chance to interview the Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea -- think Tim Russert of the Holy Land -- about whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu might be thought of as “lucky.” The Likudnik prime minister, after all, enjoys a fair approval rating, virtually no parliamentary opposition, and a populace that has sided with him, if not quite enthusiastically, over the Obama administration’s insistence on a settlement freeze.

Barnea told me I had the wrong man. The lucky one in the Levant is Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “Abu Mazen is quite happy with the status quo,” Barnea said. “The West Bank standard of living is improving, law and order is improving. He’s a head of state with none of the responsibilities of a head of state.”

If one were looking for proof of this proposition, then one need only examine Fatah’s sixth general assembly, which concluded two weeks ago in Bethlehem but received scant media coverage in the West and drew not a word from the Israeli government in response.

Though this was the first general assembly Fatah convened in twenty years, only two significant votes were taken: the first established that Israel was responsible for the death of Fatah’s heroic founder Yasser Arafat (even if no one could quite explain how Israel killed him); the second was that Abbas would remain president of both the PA and Fatah.

As Micah Halpern observed, “the vote was only in the affirmative and it was conducted by a show of hands. The intention was to make it impossible to gauge how many people neglected to raise their hands and who they are.” Other resolutions passed included the “red line” demand for a united Jerusalem -- that is, as the capital of any future Palestinian state -- and the endorsement of Fatah’s official armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which, since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, has killed dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Also dead at their hands, Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s former security commander in Gaza, who blamed his party’s political leadership for a failure to prevent Hamas’s 2007 coup in the Strip.

If this seems like a grandiose non-event on par with a Soviet plenary session to reaffirm the existence of proletarian dictatorship, then it’s because Abbas’ plan as the only Palestinian political leader capable of talking to Israel is to do as little talking as possible. As Abbas told Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post in May,

“I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements. Until then,” Abbas continued, “in the West Bank we have a good reality.… The people are living a normal life.”