Although it should come as no surprise that history in the Middle East has a rather nasty way of repeating itself, I've found the most recent headlines out of the region to be particularly redundant (and depressing) lately. Unfortunately, reports of terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well as a lack of serious political leadership on the part of the Palestinians are nothing new.
Yes, there were some notable periods of calm in the last few years, and the security fence has done a remarkably good job at nearly eliminating the use of suicide bombers inside Israel, but the reality is that Hamas and friends have never taken a break from plotting and attempting to kill Israelis. Furthermore, the peace process has continued to limp along without any real progress, so sadly, the latest setbacks are also nothing new.
What does bother me greatly, though, are the actions and words of President Abbas, who seems to be caught up in a desperate grab for relevance by channelling the late Yasir Arafat. This is bad for any number of reasons, not least of which that Arafat was unbelievably corrupt and had a singular knack for sabotaging peace talks. The late Palestinian leader was also very comfortable with terrorism and was more than willing to let his own people get killed if some personal political benefit could accrue to him as a result.
Given all of this, why would Abbas embrace Arafat's legacy? Why would he try to evoke a memory of this man, both in his own remarks to the media as well as attempt to draw direct attention to a connection by suggesting that Arafat's grave should be moved to Jerusalem? As I said earlier, I think this is a bid for legitimacy, but it's not one that I think can work. Whether the appeal of Arafat as role model lies in Abas casting about for a figure who was once respected (even revered) by the Palestinian people, or is some sort of last-ditch effort, I believe the results will be the same: disaster.
Whatever Arafat may have been able to get away with when he was in power, much of it was achieved through a well-entrenched culture of corruption, graft and strong-arm tactics, none of which, I should note, advanced the cause of peace or Palestinian statehood. Arafat "got away" with these things based on his personality and the clout he had both internally and internationally. Abbas has none of these things at the moment (except maybe a problem with corruption, but how he would turn that to his advantage is hard to imagine) and yet he seems intent on conjuring the ghost of Arafat - praising violence against Israeli civilians, undermining peace talks and doing practically nothing of substance to bolster Palestinian civil society, let alone statehood. All we can hope is that Abbas sees the folly of this path before he does any more damage - the last thing the world needs is another failed Palestinian leader, let alone another Arafat.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.