Biblio File: A Failure of Leadership
Dec 2, 2020 | Jonathan Schanzer
Arafat and Abbas: Portraits of Leadership in a State Postponed
by Menachem Klein, Oxford University Press, 2019. 225 pp. US$39.95.
Bar-Ilan University professor Menachem Klein had a front-row seat for the collapse of the Oslo process, having advised the Israeli Government when talks with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) imploded in 2000 and taking part in the failed 2003 Geneva Initiative.
Accordingly, Klein should have keen insights about Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. He does acknowledge that Arafat subjected his people to a “dysfunctional, chaotic and informal” style of “one-man rule” that lacked “strategic planning” and ultimately yielded little. Klein writes that under Abbas, “authoritarianism has increased,” noting that the current Palestinian leader “has refused to resign” despite losing public support and “stubbornly refuses to appoint a successor.”
Yet, Klein’s portrayals of the two are strangely forgiving. Arafat was a “humble leader who listened to and took care of his people’s troubles.” Despite clear evidence that Arafat initiated the disastrous Second Intifada, Klein doubts that he was “the mastermind of evil orchestrating” it.
As for Abbas, Klein declares that he “maintains a sharp distinction between his home and office,” ignoring how grotesquely Abbas’ family has prospered during his years at the top. Klein also asserts that “Abbas cannot be charged with doubletalk” though he talks peace but bankrolls convicted terrorists. Klein even clears Abbas of antisemitism, despite a PhD dissertation charging Jews with collusion with Nazis.
Further, Klein calls the Israeli government an “ethnic regime” and a “colonialist power.” These and other characterisations of Israel are wildly off the mark.
The author redeems himself in the second half of this book, delving more deeply into the expansion of authoritarianism and corruption under Abbas and his obstinate refusal to prepare for his own succession after extending his four-year term to 15 years. But other accounts of Abbas’ sins are far more compelling.