Mahmoud Abbas: An honest whiner
One of the more appealing qualities of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at least to those of us who are ourselves cynical and tired and beaten down by the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has always been his moody willingness to behave like an ordinary person in the face of the titanic frustrations of his job. While most politicians around the world will put on a good face or baldly lie about setbacks, or promise that they'll serve their constituents forever even though they know that two days later they'll be taking a job with that investment bank or hedge fund or lobbying firm, Abbas reacts as you or I would.
The main form this takes is his repeated insistence that he is on the verge of resigning -- that he doesn't need the tsuris. In 2003, he announced he was resigning because, as an aide put it, "we basically have come to a dead end here." In 2005, he threatened again to quit. In 2006, he vowed to step down if he couldn't fulfill his legislative program, saying "this seat is not my ultimate ambition." In 2009, his aides said again that he intended to resign. Since he never seems to follow through on these threats, some have written this off as petulance, grandstanding or signs of his "Hamlet-like" nature. But I tend to see each threat as a heartfelt expression of deep frustration.
This week, that frustration was on display again. At a party in New York, the 76-year-old president, who has been involved in Palestinian politics since the 1950s and has led the Palestinian Authority since 2005, was approached by an old colleague, Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations special envoy to the Middle East. With a reporter from the New York Times apparently listening in, Abbas -- who is attending the opening of the new United Nations session, where he is fighting a high-stakes battle for full membership for Palestinians -- again began to complain about the frustrations of his job. He told Larsen that the Americans, who have vowed to veto his bid for Palestinian membership, had asked for a meeting later in the evening.
"They want to meet," he told Larsen. "But we don't, really we don't want."
Asked, then, why he had agreed to do so, he said: "I don’t know why really. I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don't know what to do when I return back."
Shimon Peres, who has met secretly with Abbas several times in recent months, according to the New York Times, quoted him as saying: "I'm alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else."
It's not macho to whine about the challenges of being president, nor is it necessarily an effective strategy. But in Abbas' case, at least, I believe it is honest.
Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listens as President Obama speaks during the 66th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters on Wednesday. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press