The breakdown of the domestic political order in Gaza last week reflects the clear failure of the current Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas to achieve its people’s national rights to statehood, security and a normal life, and the consequent need for a combination of new leadership blood and better policies.
Since their rejection by the people in last year’s parliamentary elections because of their endemic corruption and lack of decisive leadership, Fatah and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, have been thrust into political oblivion. With no credibility remaining, disarray among his security forces, defeat in Gaza, and an empty treasury, Abbas dissolves the government and appoints poorly qualified spokespersons with inadequate political and linguistic abilities to communicate and negotiate the Palestinian cause to the outside world.
Unfortunately, regardless of how well-intentioned he is, how moderate his views are or how committed he is to the idea of a two-state solution; Abbas lacks decisiveness, courage, and the ability to inspire and lead. A meticulous review of Abbass meetings with foreign leaders in 2006 (2005 was no different) shows that the Palestinian leadership failed utterly in communicating the messages that ought to have been communicated to these foreign visitors. For example, Abbas made little or no effort to tell the world community that it was unfair and unwise to punish ordinary Palestinians because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel and that it was illogical to demand that Hamas recognize Israel without demanding a reciprocal Israeli recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He also equally utterly failed to effectively and clearly convey the message that the election of Hamas in January 2006 didnt really imply that a majority of Palestinians were against peace with Israel or dedicated to the destruction of the apartheid state as Israeli hasbara has been successfully trying to convince the international community. Indeed, Abbas’ statements and remarks in the presence of foreign visitors often suggested that he more or less agreed that the Palestinian people erred, to put it mildly, by electing Hamas, and had to incur the consequences.
Empowering Abbas, through Israeli concessions or Western assistance, will not transform him into what he is not. He simply lacks the leadership qualities needed at this harrowing moment in Palestinian history. He had many opportunities to take action and lead, but did very little before Hamas ascended to power and has done even less subsequently. Abbas has outlived his usefulness and he must now go. The Palestinians can blame the whole world for their plight, but the real blame falls squarely on their leaders, past and present, who by betraying their true mandate to be the servants of their people, have led them to the precipice.
The high hopes placed in Arafat and the PLO (who for the first time were internationally recognized as the representatives of the Palestinian people) were dashed by a long series of mistakes, first by the collective leadership and then, after 1991, by Arafat personally. High among these mistakes is the Oslo Agreement, negotiated secretly by inexperienced Palestinian representatives behind the backs of the more sophisticated negotiators who were involved in the Madrid-Washington conferences from 1991 to 1993.
The Oslo accords have proven to be both a defeat and a betrayal for the Palestinians because the PLO agreed to concessions required of the Palestinians that one rarely ever hears mentioned. These include the fact that the Palestinian state would be surrounded by an Israeli “buffer zone,” (read that to mean no one could enter or leave Palestine without Israel’s permission.) Which other country has to suffer this indignity?
The Palestinian state would also be comprised of four separate, non-contiguous areas. To get from one town to the next, Palestinians would have to go through Israeli “checkpoints,” the removal of which is a part of the Palestinian struggle; it makes no sense that after their independence, they would still have to endure them.
About 80 per cent of the settlers would remain within Palestine and the land on which they remained would be under permanent Israeli sovereignty.
As well, the Israeli-only “by-pass” roads that link one settlement to the next will be Israeli property as well. In other words, inside Palestine, you would have these roads where non-Palestinians would circulate without seeking permission from the Palestinians.
Under Oslo, East Jerusalem would be taken by Israel, with the Palestinians provided municipal control over a couple of neighborhoods.
And finally, the Palestinians would not have control of the water in their ground.
Abbas must now do the only decent thing: resign his post, call for new elections, and allow new leaders to come to the fore. Leaders like the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti may prove better at leading and enthusing a movement against Israeli occupation — without, it must be said, any great difference of political outlook. Warlords in the making, like the rival security chiefs Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, may prove more adept at stifling and suppressing Palestinian dissent on behalf of the same Israeli occupation. Others still, like recently sworn in Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad and his hapless predecessor Ahmad Qurei, may be more acceptable faces to Israel for negotiating a further sell-out of their people’s rights.
But only scholarly spokespersons of the caliber of Professors Rashid Khalidi and the late Edward Said can combine all of these roles into a coherent whole. Their excellent knowledge and mastery of world politics can help rethink the Palestinian performance with regard to media tactics and public diplomacy and do away with the often jumbled and confused public discourse. They can effectively show that the Israeli occupation is an act of rape and that it is the mother of all problems in the Middle East and beyond, and that there can be no peace between Israel and the Arab world, as long as the Israeli occupation persists and the Palestinian people are denied their rights, including the right to have a viable and sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital as well the repatriation of Palestinian refugees to their original hometowns and villages in what is now Israel.
Jamal I. Bittar is professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Toledo,Toledo, Ohio.