In election, Abbas steps out of Arafat's shadow
He is the front-runner as Palestinians vote Sunday for a new president.
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At a campaign stop in Hebron Wednesday, Abbas met a charged-up and sympathetic crowd including Fatah youth activists. Abbas, wearing a dark suit, red tie, and tinted glasses, took off a Russian-style winter hat and said: "Mercy on the soul of the symbol, the martyr Yasser Arafat. May he rest in peace."Skip to next paragraph
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"Abu Mazen, you are the hero," shouted the crowd.
"Mercy on the souls of all the martyrs. Mercy on the soul of Marwan Zaloum," Abbas continued, referring to the Hebron leader of the Al Aqsa brigades militia, who was killed by Israeli forces in April 2002. Israel held him responsible for a suicide bombing and shooting attacks.
Abbas then vowed: "We won't retreat, we will not stop, our conscience will not rest until we establish our independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. We will not be quiet until we achieve freedom for all the prisoners, the return of the refugees and a dignified life for all the wanted people."
"I pledge that we will establish the state of law where no one is above the law," he added.
"We offer you our loyalty," shouted the crowd.
Abbas is finally establishing a rapport with the Palestinian public, analysts say. "Suddenly, with this campaign he has been meeting people for the first time, receiving their support and recognizing that he is not anymore the man in the shadow, and that he cannot be a man with a doctrine not representing the pulse of the street," says Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs.
But Palestinian journalist Khaled Amayreh has been less impressed. "Fatah's support for Abu Mazen is not like its support for Arafat. In Arafat's case there was infatuation, symbolism, and irrational love. He had a halo of charisma around him. Abu Mazen lacks all of this. He is not a hero, or a symbol, he is only a fait accompli. Fatah has no way of preserving itself except by backing this man."
"Yasser Arafat could do anything without accountability and criticism; he was Mr. Palestine," Amayreh continues. "Abbas's ability to do the kind of things the West and Israel expect him to do will be limited. Any deviation on the core issues, and he will be finished."
But much will depend on Sunday's outcome and on Israel's policies. A poll released this week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research gave Abbas 65 percent of the vote, compared with 22 percent for second-place independent candidate Mustafa Barghouthi.
Abbas will need a turnout of more than 70 percent and at least 70 percent of the vote to be able to claim a clear mandate, says Ahmed. If he falls much short, "he will be left vulnerable. Then he will have to walk a thin rope, to try to satisfy more people internally, which will dissatisfy the external actors."
Education: Law degree from Damascus University, doctorate in history from Oriental College, Moscow.
Politics: Founding member of Fatah in 1965; in 1974, assassination target of the Abu Nidal group, due to his moderate views; joined executive committee of Palestine Liberation Organization in 1980; signed Declaration of Principles on Palestinian Self-Rule at the White House In 1993; first Palestinian Authority prime minister.
Source: "The Essential Middle East," Carol & Graf Publishers