By Michael R. Fischbach
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Extra info for Biographical Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa
Arafat ran the PLO and the PA in authoritarian fashion based on his charisma and larger-than-life public persona. Despite the existence of political structures, his was a shadowy world of intrigue, rivalries, secret bank accounts, and less-than-transparent governance. Abbas by contrast was more of a technocrat. He lacked Arafat’s flair and eschewed a military uniform like Arafat, appearing in public in a simple suit and tie. While still a consummate insider and politician, Abbas was much more willing to work within formal structures and according to procedures.
His lengthy poem, ‘‘al-Bahth an Hajar Luqman’’ (Searching for luqman’s stone) is a case in point. The poem abounds in references to geographical locations across the world and to characters from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, especially Sinbad the traveler par excellence. Sinbad’s travels taught him that the most important thing for a human being is the knowledge of one’s self: I came back With the first lesson I learned, And the last one I understood, I learned that I am myself A person should not despair in God’s mercy Except he Who does not know himself.
As a result of the secret deal reached between Israel and the PLO in Oslo, Norway, in September 1993—an agreement called the Declaration of Principles but also known as the Oslo Accord—Abbas was catapulted from relative public obscurity into the full glare of the international media. S. president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister YITZHAK RABIN, and Israeli foreign minister SHIMON PERES, among others, all of whom were well-known public figures. It was in fact Abbas, not Arafat, who actually signed the document for the PLO.