All Writings
October 11, 2006

The Palestinian Leadership Crisis

The failure of Fatah and Hamas to reach an agreement on a unity government that recognizes Israel and begins to deal with the desperate needs of their people is just another in a string of failures that have come to characterize the Palestinian situation. For nearly sixty years, the Palestinians have allowed their own leaders and those of the Arab states to use and abuse them to the point where they are finally face-to-face with the abyss. The Palestinian people must rise up and say enough is enough. How many more decades of shattered lives must they endure before their so-called leaders face the sad reality and, for once, do something to end the suffering and misery?
As an organization, Hamas has been able to provide social services including health care, education, community support projects, and jobs. But as a government, its leaders assumed the mandate to govern while stubbornly refusing to accept the conditions that make governing possible, especially the three international benchmarks–recognizing Israel, accepting prior agreements, and renouncing violence. With shameless audacity Hamas continued to defy both the West and the Arab states as well as to deny Israel's right to exist and then turned around and demanded continued support and to be treated like a normal government. A majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas because the organization enjoyed a reputation for honesty, caring, and commitment to their welfare, and not because Hamas's leaders made the destruction of Israel central to the well-being of the people. By their own actions, arrogance, and tragic failure to stop the violence against Israel, Hamas's leaders have made the case for Israeli extremists who object to any further territorial concessions to a Palestinian government that openly calls for Israel's destruction. More than any other Hamas leader, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, to whom moderation and practicality were widely attributed, has failed his people. Having squandered the mandate to govern, he must now go.
Since their rejection by the people in last January's parliamentary elections because of their endemic corruption and lack of decisive leadership, Fatah and its head, Mahmoud Abbas, have been thrust into political oblivion. With no credibility remaining, disarray among its security forces, and an empty treasury, Fatah first sought to focus on undermining Hamas. The result was a worsening of the already chaotic conditions and increased lawlessness. Having failed to bring about Hamas's collapse, Mr. Abbas then chose to use the Prisoners' document calling for implicit recognition of Israel to force his rival's hand while threatening to call for a referendum. The abduction of the Israeli soldier Shalit and the intensified violence that ensued torpedoed that effort. Unfortunately, regardless of how well-intentioned he is, how moderate his views are, and how committed he is to the idea of a two-state solution; Mr. Abbas lacks decisiveness, courage, and the ability to inspire and lead. Knowing full well that violence has been the source of all evil, he could not even prevail on al-Aqsa Brigade, an off-shoot of his own Fatah faction, to end its violence against Israel, and the Israeli response has wrecked havoc on the Palestinian community. Empowering Mr. 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. Thus, today Fatah and Hamas are at each other throats; they have never and they are not likely ever to see eye to eye politically and certainly not ideologically. Their rivalry has reached the boiling point more than once and is escalating, as evidenced by the bloody clashes and mounting casualties. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people are facing a socio-economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. Mr. Abbas has outlived his usefulness and he too 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. Mr. Abbas and Mr. Haniya must now do the only decent thing: resign their posts, call for new elections, and allow new leaders to come to the fore. The Palestinians must now make a clear choice between Fatah and Hamas and develop a national consensus; they must decide if they want to live in peace in an independent state side-by-side with Israel and begin the reconstruction of their shattered lives and their society or continue to pursue the illusory, self-destructive goal of liberating every inch of Palestine.
(Next, what Israel must do to end the occupation and move toward a two-state solution.)