So who is Mr. Abbas? Since the 1960s, he's been the No. 2 man in the militant Fatah wing of the PLO. Last year, Fatah was the leading initiator of suicide-bombing attacks against Israeli citizens. Even now, the Israelis estimate they are thwarting 40 to 50 attacks a week. "Abu Mazen has been working hand in glove with Arafat for 40 years," warns Frank Gaffney of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy. Mr. Gaffney also calls Mr. Abbas "a Holocaust denier"; he points to a 1982 doctoral dissertation and a book, both written by Mr. Abbas, suggesting the Jews exaggerate the horror of the Holocaust.
Even a leading Palestinian businessman and pro-democracy activist in Jerusalem doubts the U.S.-brokered road map will lead to peace and stability, and he's wary of Mr. Abbas. "He's not independent from the current regime, and he can't be," Issam Abu Issa told WORLD. "We need a total transformation, not a continuation of the past."
The White House and State Department give Mr. Abbas high marks, in part, because he was willing to state publicly that violence hasn't helped the Palestinian cause. "The militarization of the ... intifada caused the destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure, and therefore I am absolutely opposed to its armed nature," he told Arab newspapers on Dec. 1, 2002. But critics such as Yigal Carmon, former counter-terrorism adviser to two Israeli prime ministers, note that he has since changed his tune. Two months ago, Mr. Abbas qualified his remarks in an interview with the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. "We did not say that we would stop the armed struggle-but that we would stop the military nature of the intifada. The armed struggle demands conditions and abilities that we do not have in Palestine. We cannot equate what is happening in Palestine to [what happened in] Lebanon or Algeria, and therefore military action under these circumstances is ineffective. Thus, we say that there is no alternative but to stop [the military operations] for one year. This does not imply any concession on our part."
The White House is not alone in its confidence in the Palestinian leader. "The coming to power of Prime Minister Abu Mazen is a hopeful step," says Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), a presidential candidate. "I know him well."