Tragedy and Perfidy: The Figure of Mahmoud Abbas

An edited version of this article first appeared in LobeLog

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama this week, following in the footsteps of

Abbas and Obama confer at the White House

Abbas and Obama confer at the White House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the month. But unlike Netanyahu, Abbas is a much less heralded, or even well-known figure in Washington. And, above all, he is a man with far fewer options.

With a deadline looming at the end of April by which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had promised first to broker a permanent Israel-Palestine agreement and, later, a more modest goal of a framework for continuing talks, Abbas arrived in Washington with little to offer and less room to make further concessions. It’s a familiar position for the Palestinian leader, one he has been in since 2004, when he assumed the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) upon the death of Yasir Arafat.

Arafat was a universally respected leader to the Palestinian people, even, grudgingly, among his rivals; a fighter who had proven his worth in conflict. Abbas, by contrast, had long been Arafat’s number two, but he was more intellectual, having been an advocate, a resistance politician and a fundraiser for most of his time in exile and then after his return to the Palestinian Territories in 1994. Continue reading