elections in occupied Palestine are just 5 days
away, and the two leading contenders Mahmoud
Abbas and Mustafa Barghouthi are worlds apart
in what they bring to the Palestinian cause. Below
is a comparative overview of their backgrounds and
positions on the issues, and how the international
community is responding.
known as Abu Mazen, Abbas is a founding member of
Fateh, and for many years has been a very close
aide to Yasser Arafat. Abbas was a key architect
of the Oslo Accords, which benefited Israel and
the Palestinian leadership, at the expense of the
Palestinian people. Israel benefited by having the
task of policing the Palestinians transferred to
the Palestinian Authority (PA) - an authority who's
power is only what the Israeli state will allow
it to be. The Tunis-based Palestine Liberation Organization
benefited by keeping its hold on leadership over
the Palestinian people; the first intifada, being
led from within the occupied territories, presented
a threat that new activists would lead the Palestinian
struggle. In their desperate cling to power, Arafat
and his cronies made whatever compromises were necessary
in order to reach some kind of agreement with Israel,
and presented this to their people as a victory.
is also the co-author of the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding
(1995), which bluntly rescinds the Palestinian refugees'
right of return to their homes in what is now Israel.
Article VII, item 1, states that "Whereas the
Palestinian side considers that the right of the
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is
enshrined in international law and natural justice,
it recognizes that the prerequisites of the new
era of peace and coexistence, as well as the realities
that have been created on the ground since 1948,
have rendered the implementation of this right impracticable."
Few people seem to realize this, and Abbas continues
to get away with his promises to the refugees that
they will return to their homes "one day"!
This dishonesty and manipulation is consistent with
the PA's repeated assurances to the Palestinian
people regarding protecting this right, while at
the same time encouraging and supporting initiatives
that did the exact opposite, such as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon
proposal and the Geneva Accord. The Beilin-Abu Mazen
Understanding also includes severe compromises on
many of the crucial issues; as Beilin boasted, "They
are willing to accept an agreement which gives up
much land, without the dismantling of settlements,
with no return to the '67 border, and with an arrangement
in Jerusalem which is less than municipality level."
Israel has pocketed these concessions and sought
new concessions on subsequent negotiations.
his prime ministership in 2003, Abbas did very little
to highlight Palestinian suffering, instead focusing
on the actual purpose of the PA - to police the
Palestinian people and prevent attacks against Israel.
This was clearly illustrated in Abbas speech
at Aqaba, where he repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment
to end the Palestinian armed struggle, referring
to it as "terrorism," while making no
mention of Israel's continued onslaught against
the Palestinian people.
PA, of which Abbas has always been a very high-ranking
official, is notorious for the level of corruption
it embodies. Many industries have been monopolized
by PA officials or their relatives, senior officials
have been granted licenses to import olive oil from
abroad, making it difficult for Palestinian farmers
to sell their oil, and one Minister (Ahmed Qurei)
was found to be involved in the sale of cement to
Israel for building the wall! There are also rumors
that anyone who does not vote for Abbas will not
be employed by the PA - currently the biggest employer
in the occupied territories.
today, Abbas is again calling for an unconditional
end to Palestinian armed resistance, and to the
Intifada itself. Apparently, he is relying on Israels
benevolence to willingly reach a fair agreement.
It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be so
naïve after all that has happened since the
Oslo Accord, and especially during Sharons
reign. Sharon has already made clear his vision
for a Palestinian "state" - in actuality
a prison comprising of unconnected bantustans on
10% of historic Palestine - and U.S. President Bush
has made clear that whatever Sharon wants, Sharon
gets. Putting the Palestinian cause at the mercy
of these two is ridiculous, to say the least.
late Dr. Edward Said describes Abbas as follows:
"Known universally for his "flexibility"
with Israel... Abu Mazen is thought of generally
as colourless, moderately corrupt, and without any
clear ideas of his own, except that he wants to
please the white man." In fact, as analyst
Daoud Kuttab observed, Abbas has eliminated the
political terms thawabet (immovable
issues, such as the right of return and the status
of Jerusalem), reasoning that politics cant
be frozen and one must be flexible.
wonder then that Abbas is the unrivaled favorite
of the U.S. and Israel. They have found their man,
and this perfect fit gives some credence to the
suspicion that Arafat was poisoned in order to make
way for Abbas, thus facilitating the progress of
U.S.-Israeli designs for the region. Analyst Hasan
Abu Nimah warns that "Abbas will soon be served
with endless lists of impossible demands... [which
he] will not be able to fulfill... and the region
will be back to square one."
second place, according to the polls, Dr. Mustafa
Barghouthi offers a refreshing and needed change
from the PAs corruption and self-serving policies.
A physician by profession, Dr. Barghouthi is the
founder of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society
(PMRS), which has provided medical care and aid
to 495 Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee
camps. PMRS volunteers have distributed food, water,
and emergency first aid services to more than 1.3
million Palestinians - this alone is more than the
Palestinian Authority has ever done for the Palestinian
Barghouthi is also a human rights activist, involved
in grassroots efforts for freedom, democracy, national
unity, and social justice in Palestine. He has advocated
for the Palestinian cause for more than 25 years,
giving eloquent and convincing talks all over the
world, presenting the Palestinian situation in terms
of human rights and international law. And throughout
these efforts, he has been beaten, arrested, and
shot at by the Israeli Occupation Forces.
2002, Dr. Barghouthi, along with Dr. Edward Said,
Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi and Ibrahim Dakkak, established
the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) in order
to carry on the struggle for Palestine in a democratic
manner that involves all segments of Palestinian
society. Dr. Said has described this initiative
as the "only genuine grassroots formation that
steers clear both of the religious parties and their
fundamentally sectarian politics, and of the traditional
nationalism offered up by Arafat's old (rather than
young) Fatah activists. PNI does not throw up its
hands at the directionless militarization of the
Intifada. It offers training programs for the unemployed
and social services for the destitute on the grounds
that this answers to present circumstances and Israeli
pressure. Above all, PNI which is about to become
a recognized political party, seeks to mobilize
Palestinian society at home and in exile for free
elections -- authentic elections which will represent
Palestinian, rather than Israeli or US, interests.
This sense of authenticity is what seems so lacking
in the path cut out for Abu Mazen."
Barghouthi currently serves as the Secretary-General
of the Initiative. And of him, Dr. Said says "Singularly
free of conventional rhetoric, Barghouthi has worked
with Israelis, Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians,
Arabs to build an enviably well-run solidarity movement
that practices the pluralism and co-existence it
Barghouthi's electoral program covers all aspects
of the Palestinian cause; ending the occupation,
implementing the International Court of Justice's
decision to remove both the racist wall and Israeli
settlements, achieving national unity (within and
without the occupied territories), sharing Jerusalem
as a capital, securing the right of return for all
refugees, eliminating government corruption, and
ensuring the independence of the judiciary. In effect,
a complete restructuring and democratization of
Palestinian institutions and society that also invites
the diasporas participation.
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has
given its endorsement to Dr. Barghouthi, based on
agreements on key issues such as stressing the right
of return of refugees to what is now Israel,
and insisting on full Israeli withdrawal from occupied
areas as a pre-condition to any peace initiatives.
In fact, Dr. Barghouthi has pledged not to sign
any peace deal without the release of all political
treatment of Dr. Barghouthi and his campaigners,
when contrasted to its handling of the Abbas campaign,
provides further evidence to which candidate benefits
whom. When Dr. Barghouthi campaigned in East Jerusalem,
he was detained for several hours. Just last week,
he was beaten up at an Israeli checkpoint for coming
to the aid of one of his campaigners who was being
harassed by the Israeli soldiers. And a few days
ago, a 17 year-old volunteer was shot dead as he
put up campaign posters in a Gaza refugee camp.
Abbas and his campaigners, on the other hand, enjoy
unrestricted movement within and without the occupied
U.S., Britain, and the Arab states have also been
actively supporting Abbas. U.S. officials have been
coordinating with Abbas when an official visit might
be most suitable to boost him, and British Prime
Minister Blair has reportedly made his proposed
conference contingent on Abbas winning the election.
Arab leaders also prefer someone who will preserve
the status quo, and Egyptian President Huns Umbra
(who has recently announced his confidence in Sharons
desire for peace) has openly stated his preference
for Abbas. And of course, the international media
has given Abbas immensely greater coverage.
Barghouthi notes that the U.S. and Israel "are
trying to force a particular candidate on us. It's
very strange, because all the people who are running
as candidates in these coming elections are pro-peace:
so why would they prefer one person to another?
If they are just looking for someone who will give
in to them, then that person will fail to represent
the Palestinian people. I am planning to represent
our people, not anybody else's interests."
fact, if the Palestinian people are to have a leadership
that truly represents their needs and aspirations,
Dr. Barghouthi is the one to trust.
Haithem El-Zabri is a Los Angeles-based activist
and the editor of Alaqsaintifada.org. For special
coverage of the Palestinian elections, please see