Not just Abbas' problem, but the world's

Winning an election via strong and fair results, landslide by some accounts, should not be interpreted by anyone, friend or foe, as a sentence to be served; a no-win proposition on any decisions the victor might take. Yet, that appears to be the case with Abbas.

Whatever the final margin of victory, or actual turnout on this memorable day, one thing became vividly clear: Abu Mazen, as Abbas is known to his followers, represents a focus of hope to the great majority of Palestinians who want to live in peace in a homeland expected to have a voice among the family of nations; also affording them security and a government capable of negotiating an equitable solution for their war refugees. Hope not just for Palestinians who voted for him, but for those voting for the other six candidates… or even those who didn’t cast a ballot, many still embittered by the pain resulting from actions which have taken place in decades of struggle.

A victory such as this should not take the form of a sentence imposed on the victor, yet that’s what Abbas is confronting today. Without all the votes yet tallied, there were already voices being heard, not of well-wishing or congratulations, but voices which both posed questions and demanded action from him. Voices from many quarters in and outside of the region, Ehud Olmert’s among them. On CNN, with the world watching, the Israeli vice premier asked untimely and harsh questions that certainly could have waited the discreet time normally accorded a diplomatic honeymoon.

Olmert’s questions could have been asked, or echoed, by legion American lawmakers and politicians, whether Democrats or Republicans, who long ago have predetermined just what Mr. Abbas, or anyone else presiding over Palestine, needs to do to ingratiate himself with the American public, and which they naively think provides the only path to peace in the Middle East. Nothing new, the requirements were much the same in the past, but were then directed to Yasser Arafat.

But the march towards a permanent peace in the Middle East is not solely in Abbas’ hands; nor should the burden be placed squarely on his shoulders by preconditions that defy the realities in a difficult situation. Others must share in the burden… help smooth the long gravel path that needs to be walked on with tired and still bleeding bare feet, to achieve an equitable peace.

Abbas can start afresh in the new dialogue as the legitimate leader of Palestine, but Israel and the rest of the world must realize, nonetheless, that the goals for Palestinians are issues of discord that remain unchanged. Israel must not precondition marching on this path of negotiation, and dialogue, to issues that Abbas can influence, but cannot control. Dialogue must extend far and wide, and eventually include extreme thinking from both sides; for aspirations, grievances and demands are not quite the same for all dwellers of the Holy Land . Harmony and trust need to be found for all Israelis and Palestinians… reaching a peaceful, political modus vivendi for 60, 70, 80, or even 90% of them just won’t do the job!

For those who seek harmony in this world, peace in the Middle East being their centerpiece, it was uplifting to hear and read that much of the world has viewed positively both the conduct and the results of this election. Even the invitation extended to Abbas by Bush to visit the White House augurs a good start, a point of encouragement for an initial, open dialogue conducive to fruitful negotiations.

But if it’s encouragement for peace we are after, nothing or no one could bring it to the surface of this sea of hope any better than the man himself, Ariel Sharon. As a strong and proven leader for Israel , he can take the biggest leap towards peace by extending his hand to Abbas without any preconditions… without putting Abbas on the carpet by admonishing how closely he’ll be watching the effort of the newly-elected Palestinian leader in trying to subdue militants. Restraint in language used at this time, or even silence, can work wonders for both Palestinian and Israelis.

Let the dialogue begin… and let everyone in the world assume a share of the burden, if peace is to have a chance in the Middle East.