Palestinians Need Change -- Not Charades
|Thursday, November 19,2009 17:36|
|By Rami G. Khouri.|
BEIRUT -- Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reverted to an old political trick by saying he will resign and not run for re-election when the next presidential elections are held in early 2010 – and then immediately arranging a series of staged “rallies” in which ordinary people appear to cheer him and demand that he remain in office. The spectacle is as disheartening as it is old and empty, and it is an insult to the dignity and needs of the Palestinian people.
Three separate issues converge here: the person of Abbas and his own achievements, the nature and quality of Palestinian leadership, and the current priorities of the Palestinian people. On all three counts, Abbas should cut short his silly little melodrama, resign as he said he would, and pave the way for a needed revival of effective Palestinian national leadership.
At the personal level, Abbas is widely respected as a sincere man who has devoted his entire life to the Palestinian cause. But this is not a popularity contest, a character test, or one man’s emotional counseling session; this is about the fate of an entire people whose lives are in distress. Abbas worked closely with Yasser Arafat for four decades and has little to show for it. The most useful thing he could do now is to take advantage of his many years of experience by withdrawing from politics as planned, retreating to a quiet university in Palestine, and painstakingly writing down and analyzing every single major episode in which the Palestinians attempted to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel, but always failed.
This is important because Palestinians face a crisis of leadership. The unified national Palestinian leadership that came into its own under Arafat in the late 1960s under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) succeeded in important ways. It asserted Palestinian independent action and minimized Arab interference, brought many different ideological groups under the single PLO umbrella, and it forged a realistic national program that sought to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
All three of those assets that Arafat and his colleagues like Abbas generated have frayed or been abandoned completely. The epic, tragic high note of Abbas’ incompetence and failure as a leader at both the personal and policy levels was his move last month to bow to American and Israeli pressure and delay the UN’s consideration of the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war atrocities. He reversed course quickly, but only after revealing his monumental incompetence to engage with instruments of international law, legitimacy, and accountability, and his insensitivity to the plight of his own people who thirsted for precisely such an impartial call to end the savagery and impunity of Israeli arms.
A new Palestinian leadership needs to be elected in order to regain legitimacy that has been steadily squandered in recent years by Abbas and, before him, Arafat in his waning years. This highlights the third issue at stake, and the single most important national priority for the Palestinian people today: to reconstitute a credible national leadership whose first task always has been and remains to speak for all Palestinians in a single voice, in pursuit of realistic political goals.
At one of his orchestrated “rallies” a few days ago, Abbas said the Palestinians remained strong because of their steadfastness and the justice of their cause. Those are admirable qualities, but they are far from sufficient to achieve Palestinian national rights and statehood, and end their refugeehood. A new Palestinian leadership is required to revive the ability to speak in a single voice for all Palestinians, based on mechanisms that allow all Palestinians -- especially the refugee camp dwellers in Arab states -- to contribute to the formulation of national policies.
Abbas only accentuates his own weaknesses and the dysfunctionalities of the Palestinian national institutions he heads when he engages in silly charades like his current tour of Palestinian towns and villages where the multitudes demand that he remain in power. He demeans himself and his people by reverting to such transparent shallowness and emptiness. The last thing the Palestinians need now is to be reminded that they are on track to become yet another Arab security state with a leader for life who basks in hero worship and personality cults and faces no serious forms of accountability.
He would do much better to go to Burj el-Barajneh, Yarmouk or Jabal Hussein refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to consult with his fellow refugees, and forge a consensus policy on making peace with Israel, or resisting its occupation and colonization policies if peace is not a possibility today. The Palestinians need honesty, humility, consensus-building and clarity from their leaders, and Abbas gives them none of these.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.