It appears that the Palestinian leadership succession will not take place smoothly as has been hoped for. The first signs of a possibly violent future, as a result of the multiplicity of factions within the Palestinian political arena, and the disagreement between Fatah and the opposition, have already shown that any successor that emerges has inherited a swamp of tremendous problems.
The shooting inside the condolence tent in Gaza, regardless of whether it was an attempt to assassinate Abu Mazen or an act meant to frighten, or simply to show who has real power; it was a clear threat for a very uncertain future. The different statements from the various echelons and militias together with the general environment of threats emanating from almost everywhere regarding those who plan to take the law into their own hands, suggest that the new era may be controlled by all kinds of warlords.
The pre-eminent figure for the new Palestinian leader appears to be Abu Mazen. He has to consolidate his power and legitimacy. But are we seeking a new leader with total power? The new leadership needs to establish a new basis of trust with the public. Would it be the right policy to look for a succession within a system of autocracy? The call by some Palestinian factions for a "united national leadership" or even trying to suggest a "presidential authoritarianism" is a retreat to the sixties of the last century, and an obstruction to democracy. Such a step would not serve the Palestinians and their future strategy. Are we witnessing a turning point as many had early predicted? The single leader model will not be what is needed. The transition must be to real democracy and not a de-facto autocracy.
On the more practical side, will the successor be able to rebuild the destroyed and collapsing economy? Will the successor be able to rebuild the destroyed institutions and especially the security institutions? Will the new leadership maintain order and stability and manage to control the threats from other political movements and factions? These are the issues that the public wants answers and solutions to. One of the main elements of trust building that should be undertaken is the financial reforms and necessary transparency of accounts detailing income and expenditures. The new leadership must expose the facts that surrounded the death of the president and the circumstances of his illness. They must fully clarify for the public why information has been hidden until this very day.
The recent days have shown that Fatah is trying to overcome the vacuum that was created by the death of President Arafat. They now realize that Arafat was not only a symbol for the Palestinian people and their cause; he was also a symbol within Fatah and more so, a major dominating power over the Palestinians people. Fatah is now struggling to ensure their dominating power over the Palestinian political arena. The Palestinian security apparatuses and the militias are going to play a major role in supporting their own individual leaders. This is especially the case regarding the power of the young guards and brigades. The crisis inside Fatah is major and because of that, Arafat’s absence is felt the hardest there. The movement is fractured with disagreements; there are quarrels between the old guard and the new guard, and between the military wings and the political wing. This could lead to the dissolving of the entire movement, or in the least, it could cause great damage to the image of the movement.
Many questions are now raised regarding the ability of an inherently non-democratic framework to lead a democratic process. Fatah has to conduct its internal elections in a democratic way, and only after electing its representatives it should go to the general Palestinian democratic elections. Fatah and its members have to elect a pragmatic figure to lead them. They cannot and should not nominate a leadership that leads them, or the Palestinians people, by remote control. It is destructive to see Fatah members failing to come to a united position presenting the vision of Fatah. To get over that, Fatah has to carry its own legitimate elections for the 16-members of the Central Committee and the 126-members of the revolutionary council.
We must also recognize another challenge facing the Palestinians. The source of authority of the Palestinian Authority is the PLO. How can an out-dated body that itself lacks legitimacy which must be gained through democracy provide legitimacy for another political body? The PLO itself must also conduct democratic elections for its institutions – the Palestinian National Council and the Executive Committee. If this is not possible, then the Palestinian new elected authority should be the only authority.
The coming Palestinian crisis is over legitimacy and the enforcement of law. The Palestinians need democracy and legitimacy and should be encouraged by the international community. In May 2002 the Basic Law was ratified and signed by President Arafat. The Draft Constitution which should be legislated is in its third draft. It has not been presented to the public in a referendum. The amendments for Palestinian Election Law also were not ratified in its latest version and a new Constitutional Court still has to be created.
The Presidential Elections should lead to general elections; otherwise the election for the presidency will be meaningless. The amended Palestinian election law elections states that "the Palestinian Legislative Council would compose a constitutional order for the transitional period founded upon, popular sovereignty, democratic principles, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, equality among citizens, and the guarantee of the basic rights of citizens". In order to achieve these results there are enough reasons to call for general elections that will trigger the new democracy and create legitimacy.
It is important for all Palestinians that all Palestinians who have the right to vote must participate. The legitimacy of the entire political system is based on maximum public participation in order to provide legitimacy. There should be no arguments from anyone concerning the participation of the Jerusalemite Palestinians in the coming elections, if Israel also seeking a legitimate Palestinian leadership, the participation of Jerusalemites in the election is a condition for just elections. Even if Israel rejects their participation and tries to prevent it, with modern technologies and even by using the simple mail system, their participation cannot be stopped.
The new leadership will have its hands full with great challenges. There will be many internal challenges of creating unity and of building the society, its economy and the institutions of statehood. It will also have its hands full with the external challenges –” restarting a peace process and entering into negotiations. The new leadership will be interested in rebuilding coordination with Israel and Israel should, therefore, consider changing the time-frame for the implementation of the disengagement in order to allow the Palestinian leadership to organize and prepare itself for the taken over of full authority from any area that Israel leaves. Throwing the disengagement on the new leadership will be problematic and distractive for them. If they will not be prepared for it, and if the Palestinian internal issues will not be stabilized, and until the speculation about possible chaos is eliminated, and law and order are restored and implemented, it might very well become the fuel for flaming the already chaotic situation.
We should work to elevate a capable leadership, a leadership that might unite the people and confront the challenges and would bring stability and prosperity for the people, and an end to the domination of one party over the others. To achieve that, democracy must prevail.