Abbas is lavish in praise of Arafat legacy in talk

Ramallah speech marks end of mourning period for ex-Palestinian leader

December 22, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to win the Jan. 9 elections to succeed Yasser Arafat as Palestinian president, praised Arafat's legacy in a speech yesterday marking the end of the 40-day mourning period for the former leader.

Abbas, 69, who has succeeded Arafat as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was lavish in his praise as he spoke in Arafat's old headquarters in Ramallah.

"No words of homage are sufficient to commemorate his memory," Abbas said in the presence of Palestinian notables and Arab representatives, in a speech sometimes broken by bursts of gunfire homage from the crowd outside. Arafat "remains eternal in the minds and collective memory of our people and the Arab and Islamic people," Abbas said.

`Continue the struggle'

One day, Abbas said, Arafat will be buried in Jerusalem, and he vowed: "We will continue the struggle to make your dream and our dream come true and to have a Palestinian child raise the Palestinian flag on the walls of Jerusalem, the capital of our independent Palestinian state."

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei vowed that the new leadership would follow in Arafat's steps, saying, "His principles are ours, and his goals are ours."

Despite his words, Abbas is campaigning for the presidency on a break with Arafat and the four-year-long intifada, or uprising. Abbas, who refused to speak with Arafat in the last 16 months of his life, is calling explicitly for an end to violence against Israeli civilians, calling the attacks counterproductive to an independent Palestinian state. He is promising security in the streets, the rule of law and government through institutions - all of which are contrary to Arafat's style.

Ehud Yaari, the Arab analyst for Israeli television's Channel 2, noted that Arafat has not been accorded by his successors the status he desired of a shahid, or martyr. There is mourning for Arafat, he said, "but a sigh of relief, too - it was about time."

Abbas, pictured with Arafat on a giant poster on a wall of the Ramallah headquarters, is struggling for "de-Arafatization," Yaari said, hoping for a different future and a way to pull Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back into serious negotiations with a Palestinian partner.

`Campaign is clear'

Abbas' "campaign is clear, and every Palestinian knows it, that the intifada should end," Yaari said. What is less clear is whether Abbas, who is almost sure to win the election, will be able to control the men with the guns and transform Palestinian politics.

Sharon, for his part, is facing talk of open resistance from settlers' groups opposed to his plan to dismantle all Israeli settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank. Calls for nonviolent resistance over the past few days were punctuated by some settlers announcing that they would don orange Stars of David in protest - an echo of the yellow Stars of David the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

That act ignited a public uproar yesterday, with Israeli notables decrying the misuse of the Holocaust.

The director of Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, was scathing. "The plan to wear orange stars perverts the historical facts and damages the memory of the Shoah," said Avner Shalev.

Efraim Zuroff, Israel director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center who hunts Nazi war criminals, said the people donning the stars "are in a way joining the worst enemies of the state of Israel, who are relativizing the Holocaust."

`A false reality'

These settlers "are trying to project a false reality, as if their lives are similar to those of Jews under the Nazis - and it only strengthens the spurious comparisons made by the worst anti-Semites, who equate the Israeli army with the Nazis and Sharon with Hitler," Zuroff said in an interview. "Gush Katif [a Gaza settlement] is not the Warsaw ghetto, and resettlement is not a ticket to the gas chambers."

Columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Aharonot more generally of the civil disobedience plans of the settlers. "When the settlers' council leaders recruit Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to justify their battle, we can only smile," he wrote. "The latter battled for the enslaved, the oppressed, the downtrodden. The settlers are battling for the occupier, the strong, the armed."

But Moshe Karadi, Israel's police chief, warned yesterday that settlers who are "completely ideological, based on faith" could make it difficult for police charged with ensuring that all 8,000 Gaza settlers leave their homes.

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