Afterwards Abbas remained in the shadows. Obviously, he got other tasks and was no longer in charge of contacts with Israelis. I saw Arafat many times, and twice I served as a "human shield" in his Ramallah office, when Ariel Sharon threatened his life. I saw Abbas only two or three times (I remember a picture: once, when Arafat insisted on taking the hands of my wife Rachel and me and led us to the entrance of the building, we came across Abbas. We shook hands, exchanged civilities, and that was that.)
Rachel and Abbas were of the same age and both had spent much of their childhood in Safed. Her father had a clinic on Safed's Mount Canaan and once we speculated if as a boy Abbas had been treated by him.
WHEN ARAFAT DIED (murdered, I believe), Abbas was his natural successor. As a founding member, he was acceptable to everyone. Farouk Kaddoumi, of equal rank, is an adherent of the Baath regime in Damascus and rejected Oslo. He did not return to Palestine.
I met Abbas at Arafat's mourning ceremony at the Mukata'a. He sat next to the chief of Egyptian intelligence. After we shook hands, I saw from the corner of my eye that he tried to explain to the Egyptian who I am.
Since then, Abbas has served as the president of the "Palestinian National Authority." This is one of the most difficult jobs on earth.
A national government under occupation is compelled to tread a very narrow line. It can fall any minute on one side (collaboration with the enemy) or on the other side (suppression by the occupation authorities).
At the age of 17, when I was a member of the Irgun, my company held a mock trial for Philippe Petain, the marshal put by the Nazis at the head of the Vichy government functioning under Nazi rule in "unoccupied" Southern France.
My job was to "defend" Petain. I said that he was a French patriot, who tried to save what could be saved after the collapse of France and to ensure that France would be still there at the hour of victory.
But when victory came, Petain was condemned to death and saved only by the wisdom of his enemy, Charles de Gaulle, the leader of Free France.
There is no possibility of safeguarding freedom under occupation. Anyone trying to do so finds himself on a slippery slope, trying to satisfy the occupier and to protect his people from harm. In the course of the years the Vichy regime was compelled to collaborate with the Germans, step by step, from the persecution of the underground to the expulsion of the Jews.
Moreover, where there is an authority, even under occupation, interest groups spring up. Some people acquire an interest in the status quo and support the occupation. Pierre Laval, an opportunist French politician, rose to the top in Vichy, and quite a lot of French people gathered around him. In the end, he was executed.
NOW ABBAS finds himself in a similar situation. An impossible situation. He plays poker with the occupation authorities, when they hold all the four aces, and he has in his hand nothing but one minor card.
He sees his job as guarding the occupied Palestinian population until the day of deliverance -- until the day Israel is compelled to give up the occupation in all its forms -- the settlements, the stealing of the land, the oppression.
Compelled to give up -- but how?
Abbas objects to the violent resistance ("terrorism"). I believe that he is right in this. Israel has a huge army, the occupation has no moral brakes (see: Elor Azaria). The acts of the "martyrs" may reinforce the national pride of the Palestinian population, but they make the occupation worse and lead nowhere.
Abbas has adopted a strategy of international action. He is investing a large part of his resources in achieving a pro-Palestinian UN resolution, a resolution that will condemn the occupation and the settlements and recognize Palestine as a full-fledged UN member. At this moment, Binyamin Netanyahu is afraid that President Obama might use the two months of irresponsibility -- between election day and the end of his term of office -- to let such a resolution pass.
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