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Mahmoud Abbas’s Bad Neighborhood

With Gaza poised on the brink of civil war, pity poor Mahmoud Abbas, who took over as president of the Palestinian Authority two and a half years ago, after the death of Yasser Arafat. An academic by profession, Abbas has tried mightily to lead the Palestinian people with civility, adherence to democratic principles, and public disdain for violence.

He never had a chance. Palestinian rivals, both from his own Fatah party and from the Islamists of Hamas, as well as the Israelis, perceived Abbas’s civility as weakness.

Abbas introduced a totally different style of management from that of Arafat. Dressed in his military suit until his last day, Abu Ammar (Arafat’s revolutionary nom de guerre) did not believe that it was time to become a civilian president while the Israeli occupation continued. Dressed in a suit and tie, Abbas introduced professional Western-style management to the presidency, but had no idea what to do with grass-roots militants.

One of the first comments I heard from journalists was that Abbas, a family man, went home at lunchtime and worked regular business hours. His other name, Abu Mazen, is not a revolutionary name but reflects the practice of naming a person as the father of his eldest son. Abbas’s son, Mazen, runs a local advertising agency.