While the demand for Palestinian "reform" is supposedly inspired by international concern that there be better governance, Abbas is widely perceived among Palestinians themselves as one of the most notoriously corrupt individuals in the Palestinian Authority. Soon after the Authority was established in Gaza, construction began on a lavish $1.5 million villa for Abbas, funded by unknown sources, and in the midst of some of the world's most wretched poverty. In response to widespread outrage, Arafat's "Minister of Commerce and Economy," Nasser Sarraj, argued in The New York Times, "Who says he [Abbas] doesn't have the right to live in a villa worth $1.5 million, or even $10 million?" He added, "Those who say he doesn't are spies and collaborators for Israel." (2 February 1997)
Abbas is also deeply mistrusted among Palestinians for his authorship along with senior Israelis of various "peace plans" that relinquish fundamental Palestinian rights and maintain the occupation intact albeit under another name. It was Abbas' idea to take the dusty village of Abu Dis, rename it "Al Quds" and then to hand the entire city of Jerusalem over to Israel. Abbas is frequently celebrated by such figures as Ha'aretz commentator Akiva Eldar for his apparent willingness to repudiate Palestinian refugees' right of return. What Abbas advocates now is nothing more than a return to the utterly failed Oslo process, which led directly and quite predictably to the current bloody impasse.
Israel, with the collusion of the United States, and not to the great disappointment of Arafat, canceled elections scheduled for last January which might have provided the Palestinians some opportunity to speak for themselves and pick new leaders. Instead, the discredited and ridiculous Arafat, holed up for nearly two years in a pile of rubble, has appointed another discredited Palestinian leader to join him. It should be noted that Abbas was not Arafat's first choice, because as soon as the United States declared last summer that Arafat was finished, Abbas began positioning himself to take over. Instead, Arafat had wanted to appoint a political non-entity who would not have posed any challenge to him or served the Palestinian people any better.