Failure at the top

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The test of leadership is usually at times of pressure and turmoil. So far, the Palestinian leadership has been failing miserably.

It is easy to put blame in other places. Certainly the continuation of occupation for 40 years is to blame. The failure of the Oslo process can’t be discounted and the unjust siege on Palestine, especially on Gaza, certainly contributed to the turmoil.

High expectations are also to be blamed. Palestinians had high expectations when they kicked out the Fateh movement because of historic corruption and lack of power sharing. The public had high expectations when the Mecca agreement was signed, bringing forward the national unity government.

The world community, which made many promises to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his moderate leadership failed to press the Israelis to deliver on these promises. Instead, the Israelis figured out that Abbas was weak (a position he doesn’t deny himself) and therefore felt they need not support him.

But all this doesn’t excuse a leadership that doesn’t have the courage to face its problems head-on.

Abbas is a nice guy who abhorred the militarisation of the Intifada, burnt his bridges with the grassroots militants and paid little attention to the average Fateh activist. He spent most of his time meeting world leaders and travelling to world capitals. All this would have been fine had Palestine been liberated and the Gaza Strip part of the European Union. But the reality is much different and can’t be addressed with an academic discussion.

Abbas has made a very important analysis of the situation. He declared that all those who carry weapons and use them are to be blamed. That sounds coming from a political analyst. A president who is the commander-in-chief-of the Palestinian armed forces need not give an analysis of the situation, he has to create and enforce policy that follows the rule of law.

Yasser Arafat refused to shed his revolutionary dress because he felt that occupation was not over just because he was elected and crowned president of a non-sovereign Palestinian Authority. Although he was attacked for it, Arafat understood that he had to keep strong ties with militants even if he had to buy their allegiance.

While the situation is dire, it is not without possible solutions, even though most solutions now are very difficult. The Palestinian president needs to show resolution and end his months of hesitation. Either the law reigns supreme or there is armed anarchy. If the commander-in-chief is unable to get his forces to enforce the rule of law, he has little choice but to take the obvious road and turn the keys in.

Such a decision will push the ball into the Israeli court. They have had the land without the responsibility. They are the occupiers from afar, without the need to pay the price of occupation. They will have to decide either to truly give up the occupation or to be fully responsible for its entire outcome.

The Israelis have another choice as well. They can release leading moderate prisoners like Marwan Barghouthi and allow the Palestinians to be led by a tough leader who has strong grassroots support to do what is necessary to bring back the rule of law in Palestine. The world community can’t deny its responsibility in forcing the situation to reach where it reached.

But like any serious liberation movement, the key is the public. For a long time now, the Palestinian public lost interest in either of the now major camps (Fateh and Hamas). The courageous Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank who have braved the armed militants (with some paying with their lives) are the real heroes. Will this public movement last for a long time? The coming days will tell.

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…Written before the decision by President Abbas to dissolve the Haniyeh government and declare Emergency.

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