A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts on Mahmoud ‘Abbas

Mahmoud ‘Abbas' announcement that he does not intend to run for re-election is one of the two big stories of the day, along with the Saudi border clashes. I already noted over a week ago when he started to make noises about not running; Marc Lynch then and again today has expressed the idea that this could shake things up, and adds:
Most of the Palestinian and Arab commentary I've seen since his announcement falls into three basic trends: the first thinks he's bluffing, attempting to leverage his weakness into pressure on the U.S. and Israel; the second thinks it's irrelevant, because the elections will not actually be held in January; and the third is cheering his departure, and hoping that it will lead to a collective admission that the PA's strategy has failed. The three perspectives are obviously not mutually exclusive. When I asked leading Palestinian academic Salim Tamari yesterday about the impact it would have on the peace process, he just looked at me quizically and said "what peace process?"
A reasonable question. I confess to still being among the skeptics, in that I'm not sure he really means it. He said he had "no desire" to run; that suggests he could be open to persuasion. If he does mean it, it would indeed reshuffle the deck, but in whose favor? It's always dangerous to bluff with a weak hand, and I fear ‘Abbas' hand is pretty weak at the moment.

January elections, I must say, seem less likely now: Hamas was already refusing to hold them in Gaza, and now Fatah has no immediate candidate.

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