As historians say, coincidence plays an important role in history and this coincidence may change the course of history, or put someone in a place that is not theirs and give them greater power than they imagine. This is the case with the coincidental leaders of the Arab world that we find in almost every Arab country. The Palestinians are no exception, as this is what happened with President Mahmoud Abbas, who coincidentally succeeded President Yasser Arafat after Abu Yousef Al-Najjar, Abu Jihad, Abu Iyad, and Khaled Al-Hassan died, some of them as a result of assassination at the hands of the Israelis.
No one can deny that the man is one of Fatah's historical leaders, but throughout the Palestinian experience, he was not expected to succeed Arafat in every position he held throughout his life. Abu Mazen had always been a "shadow man," working behind the scenes on Palestinian policies that were not popular amongst the Palestinians, such as relations with the Israelis in early times. He was also known for his rejection of political action – he is the godfather of the "brooding" policy, as he spent many years brooding for some reason or another. One can say that he spent a long time brooding than he did working before becoming president. Of course, while acting as president for the past 14 years, he did not brood once.
Abu Mazen was never convinced of the Palestinian struggle and was one of its biggest critics within Fatah, especially of its military element. He believed that this experience harmed the Palestinians. He did not want to recognise that the experience, including its positive and negative aspects, was an obligatory path forced on the Palestinians so that Israel could not disregard them and completely eliminate them from the political map in the region. On principle, he did not support armed action.
At the time of the rise of the Palestinian experience, Abu Mazen was a certain political colour on a large political spectrum, with all of its pluralism, contradictions, and pretences. It was an enrichment of the diversity within Fatah, which was an expression of the situation of the Palestinian people. He was one of Fatah's historic leaders, but he was neither its leader nor the president of the PLO nor the president of the PA. He also was not the leader of a faction or of a certain point of view within the movement. He never aspired to be the top ranked Palestinian, but then found himself occupying all of the positions filled by Yasser Arafat, who had already overstepped these positions and his authority.
He was not a leader amongst a group of leaders or even different than the position of second in command. Since the man assumed these positions at a sensitive time, he greatly affected the standing of the Palestinian cause during the years he assumed all central positions on the Palestinian arena. Politics in the Palestinian arena became a one-man show, the President Abbas show. This is something Yasser Arafat did not do, despite all the historical weight he had in the Palestinian experience.
Just as coincidence has a role in history, individuals also play a role in history. In order for an individual to have a role, it is not enough for coincidence to take them into a political position that is bigger than them. They must possess charisma and firm determination and they will earn this role. In President Abu Mazen's case, this role was catastrophic. He did not only fail in filling the vacuum left behind by Arafat but also squandered the historical legacy of the late president and of every national Palestinian movement. Absolute authority fell into his hands either coincidentally or not, but he did not know how to use it to serve the national cause. Instead, he utilised it to gather more power in his hands and disrupt any political action outside the Palestinian presidency institution, which showed cowardice in taking initiative in every Palestinian political turning point or aspect. This clearly indicated that this presidency and pattern of managing politics in this exclusive manner paved the way for an inevitable Palestinian national disaster.
Abu Mazen has tried several times, and in several dialogues, to suggest that he has ascended authority and all positions, but all his practices indicate that he exercises power as a tyrant. Although he does not have the tools of oppression possessed by tyrants, he does not tolerate any critical observations. He believes that given the negative experiences in the Palestinian arena, he is irreplaceable and that he can punish anyone who criticises him and reward anyone who is pleased with him. Meanwhile, he treats all of the official Palestinian frameworks associated with the PA, PLO, and Fatah wi
th disregard and contempt at a time when he is managing a retreating policy from all issues proposed on the Palestinian agenda.
Yes, President Abu Mazen has obtained powers that were not available to the late Yasser Arafat, some he inherited and others that were given to him by the Palestinian division. It is also true that he is the source of all legitimacies and powers, and acts accordingly. He deals with many of his people's issues with disregard and disdain. No one threatens this legitimacy and no institution is challenging it. He has become a king while the Palestinian situation deteriorates on a daily basis. It would not be true to say that there is a Palestinian political system in Palestine today. Instead, there is an Abu Mazen system, with him operating alone and everyone working to serve him.
The Palestinians must work to rid themselves of this system as soon as possible because it is putting them on the edge of the abyss and is dispelling the Palestinian issue. Palestine is not a nation belonging to one man, but a nation with a cause whose rights must be reinstated through organisations and representative institutions.
Therefore, eliminating Abu Mazen's political system as fast as possible has become a historical necessity for Palestinians and Palestine.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 4 December 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.