Leadership and Authority: An Introductory Assessment of the Palestinian Condition
Israeli Occupation Authority, the Palestinian Authority, and the Legal Status:
The political, legal, and human condition of the Palestinian people is currently a composite of bizarre factors, bordering on the surrealistic, with very tragic consequences.
A multi-tiered and varied complex of authority has evolved with various, often conflicting, influences on the lives of the Palestinians who are left reeling without proper guidance or genuine leadership.
On the one hand, the Israeli occupation continues unabated, with a multitude of expressions of direct oppression and authority ranging from military assaults and incursions, to a stifling siege and apartheid-like "separation," to home demolitions and assassinations, to abductions and curfews.
Caught in this maze of pervasive oppressive measures, the ordinary Palestinian receives "orders" from the military occupation as to the territorial limits of his/her confinement (defined by military check points and physical barriers within towns, villages, camps, or even neighborhoods) that form the immediate "space" available for movement.
Palestinian time, as well, has become subject to the definition of Israeli military "orders" in terms of the duration of the "curfew" or the few hours per day/week/month in which a Palestinian is "allowed" to pursue such things as shopping for food and medicine, or for the simplest form of direct human communion. Needless to say, luxuries such as work (or making any kind of subsistence income with which to buy the necessary supplies), or education, or sustained medical treatment, or trade and industry, or planning and development, or any other form of institutional and collective pursuits-all have become unattainable dreams.
A disembodied voice on a distorting loudspeaker on a gigantic tank, APC or military jeep, is the source of "authority" and instruction defining the limits of your spatial and temporal dimensions.
The invasion also encompasses a deliberate and cruel incursion into the spirit and will of a whole people in an attempt to break its spirit of resistance and to "normalize" this most abnormal and intrusive occupation. "Taming" by fire and imposing an artificial "docility" are the impossible objectives that no colonial power has ever succeeded in achieving in confronting the enslaved people's determination to live in freedom and dignity.
Invariably, such a battle of wills will lead to distortions that produce a mutual devaluation of life and dehumanization of the other.
The tragic irony in the "authority" of the occupation is in its insistence on controlling all aspects of Palestinian life while simultaneously leaving the "functional, administrative" responsibility to a captive (and otherwise helpless) Palestinian Authority whose very legitimacy is being denied and destroyed by the Israeli occupation and government.
Similarly, while totally obliterating its obligations and reneging on its commitments under the signed agreements, Israel continues to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for all its undertakings despite its hostage status and Israel's insistence on undermining its standing and powers.
Nowhere is this as obvious as in the area of "security" whereby the Palestinian security forces are being held responsible for the individual and collective security of the Israelis, while the headquarters, dorms, and vehicles of the Palestinian forces have been shelled and destroyed, thousands of their members abducted and imprisoned, and hundreds killed by the Israeli military.
The Israeli occupation army has effectively taken over all the "security" punitive and repressive "responsibilities" in all the Palestinian areas (having eradicated the ill-famed designations A, B, C, H1, H2, etc.), and at the same time is repeatedly demanding of the Palestinian Authority the impossible task of acting as a "surrogate occupation" capable of oppressing its own people and delivering Israeli security while the Palestinians as a whole are deprived of all aspects of their security.
The question then remains-Are the signed agreements still valid, given the Israeli government's declared and implemented policy of unraveling the Oslo Accords and all subsequent agreements? Are they selectively and partially applicable only when they suit the designs and purposes of the Israeli occupation?
Given the fact that for all practical purposes Israel does not consider them binding on the occupier, what is the legal status of the PA under occupation and under an incapacitating siege, particularly when the "agreements" that gave birth to the PA are more honored by the breach?
The Palestinian people find themselves "governed" by an Authority that lacks all the powers and requisites of government, incapable of delivering services (let alone security) to its own people, yet in control of political decision-making as the official "address" of the Palestinian people.
Yet it is precisely this Authority that is being deliberately humiliated, delegitimized and even physically targeted by the Israeli government with full American support and collusion.
On the one hand, the Palestinian people, rejecting an imposed, tailor-made leadership fabricated to suit Israeli-American specifications, have rallied in defense of an Authority that they do not support and whose record has been abysmally lacking on all fronts.
On the other hand, the Palestinians clearly see in this Authority a lack of leadership policies and responsible administration that would produce a genuinely democratic Palestinian state.
The beleaguered Authority that the Palestinians are defending in the face of an American boycott or ostracism and an Israeli assault and dismantlement, is that same Authority whose survival and reactive/defensive decisions of self-interest are contributing to the further deprivation and suffering of the Palestinian people.
Thus, the Palestinians are left with a group of "officials" who are quasi- or semi-legal (except insofar as some have been elected), whose record in office has been irreparably tarnished, but whose "mandate" includes carrying out the "reforms" necessary to undo the damage that they themselves had inflicted on their people. To add insult to injury, they are required to "deliver" at the same time as Israel is being given a free hand to wreak havoc in Palestinian lives and lands.
As part of the "reform," President Arafat carried out a cabinet reshuffle that kept most of his circle in place (or in the loop with ministerial rank), and without a vote of "confidence" from the (legally expired?) Palestinian Legislative Council that has failed to meet for a variety of reasons (including the siege and the political considerations of its leadership).
It is not surprising then that a policy and leadership vacuum is generated, and the Palestinian people under siege/occupation/attack find themselves totally vulnerable and entirely rudderless.
With the exception of a few sporadic, often incomprehensible, ad hoc decisions pertaining to partial and equally sporadic and arbitrary "reform" measure dealing with individuals, the Palestinians do not discern any coherent or effective policies addressing their needs and providing them with a clear future direction.
External Players and the Reform Agenda:
However, in addition to the "authority" of the illegal Israeli military occupation, and the powerlessness of the Palestinian "Authority" that has been coerced into some form of self-negating "reform," the Palestinian people find themselves subject to external, intrusive forms of "authority" that are determining their fate without any semblance of inclusion.
Thus the US administration, with astounding brilliance, latched on to the "reform" agenda (not to be confused with the authentic, home-grown Palestinian agenda) as a means of bringing about an artificial calm before the storm (the Iraqi agenda), and in order to create the impression of "engagement" and "motion" in the Middle East, also with a view to placating "friendly Arab regimes."
Ironically, Israeli-American relations have never been so intimate and fused to the detriment of Arab-American relations and US standing and interests in the region. As incredible as it may seem, Israel's incorporation into the domestic American scene has gone as far as to give it a permanent role in the new "Homeland Security" Department (which brings to question the geopolitical boundaries of the American "homeland"). At the same time, the American representative to the UN has issued a global decree that no UN criticism of Israel will escape the American veto unless it clearly denounces in specific terms the Palestinian side (which is thus deemed guilty a priori).
The new type of American "involvement" would serve the dual purpose of defraying criticism of impotence and lack of responsibility, and of avoiding any criticism of (or pressure on) Israel in a pre-election period that cannot accommodate invoking the displeasure of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the US.
Inevitably, this evasive tactic would also serve to spare the American administration any direct handling of the real issues-primarily the Israeli occupation with all its war crimes, brutality, and gross violations of international law and human rights-by "immersion" in the Palestinian question of "culpability and reform" which would provide room for Israeli impunity and immunity to extend even further.
The American pendulum has thereby swung from the one extreme of the "peace process" being the be-all and the end-all even at the expense of the Palestinian people's democratic and human rights, to the exclusive obsession of Palestinian institution building and democratic reform as the prerequisite for peace. In the meantime, the Sharon government's anti-peace agenda of military extremism and political fundamentalism is left out of the equation, being both a domestic political liability and an ally/target of supreme intractability.
Therein lies the American pursuit of an ideal Palestinian "constitution" ostensibly to safeguard the democratic rights of the Palestinian people under occupation/siege/incursions/apartheid separation.
Granted, the recently adopted "Basic Law" is far from perfect, having been drafted within the constraints of the DOP and all interim agreements that denied the Palestinians full sovereignty. However, the newly discovered American zeal for a constitution disregards the legal conditions (however flawed and unjust) that brought about the Basic Law.
The implications may be understood as a new-found American commitment to an immediate Palestinian independence and sovereign statehood; they may also be understood as a final deconstruction and negation of the DOP and other interim agreements. Either way, the legal reference is yet to be defined.
Given also the fact that the US "vision" of a two-state solution still lacks concrete and incremental steps of implementation and a binding timeline (beyond the projected three-year frame-if the Palestinians behave themselves), such devotion to a constitution for a people who can hardly breathe freely may be more misleading than refreshing.
The underlying motivation is rather obvious: The Americans seem to be saying-if we cannot get rid of Arafat, and if we cannot guarantee his defeat in the projected "elections," then kick him upstairs and sideline him "constitutionally" by rendering him "symbolic" or "titular," and by appointing a legal Prime Minister in accordance with the new Constitution which would provide for the establishment of such a supreme executive post. A "parliamentary" system would naturally dilute and diffuse "presidential" powers.
To avoid any misunderstanding at this point, it is imperative to point out that the Palestinians would like nothing better than to have a democratic constitution, a commitment to their full independence, efficient and transparent institutions, a separation of powers, and a rule of law that would guarantee all rights and freedoms. An efficient, credible, and respected Prime Minister would also be welcomed.
The "rub," however, lies in the patronizing, partial, and short-sighted maneuvers that seek to "eliminate" the "Arafat syndrome" without addressing the fatal disease of the occupation itself. Such a blatant manipulation of the democratic process to circumvent the real issues and to reorganize the domestic Palestinian scene without lifting the yoke of Israeli oppression is bound to be self defeating. The Palestinian people are perfectly capable of carrying out their own reforms and of holding their leadership accountable, if given the chance.
Israeli pick-and-choose tactics, or the license to select a "kosher" Palestinian leadership, has infected the Americans as well. Here the newly appointed "ministers" of Finance and Interior are running the risk of receiving the "kiss of death" in the form of an Israeli-American seal of approval, while conversely buying Arafat time and standing with ostracism and relentless bashing.
To the Palestinians, American "engagement" is taking the form of neo-colonial and (not-entirely-innocent) external control consistent with the Sharon government's list of priorities.
Other players, mainly within the "Quartet" (or Quartet +) format, have been recruited and assigned tasks in accordance with the American vision and reform agenda.
The PA's "One Hundred Days' Reform Plan" has become the international community's framework for a new "mandate" on Palestine. The "matrix" is the blue print by means of which the US, the EU, the UN, and Russia, plus Norway, Japan, the World Bank, and the IMF are attempting to reorganize Palestinian life through the economic/reform gate. The "Task Force" has been formed and the tasks allocated, while the Palestinian public has been left in the dark to deal with its daily pain, loss of life, and overall suffering and captivity on its own. "Accountability" in this case seems to apply only to the domestic Palestinian scene, while Israel persists to act with full impunity.
"Security," of course, has taken the prime place in the attention and efforts of this new mandate. Naturally, it has fallen to the US (and the CIA in particular) to undertake this reform responsibility with a little bit of help from its friends in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Having discovered that their intelligence/security systems are the most "democratic" and advanced models, the US has entrusted Egypt and Jordan with the CIA plan for implementation and hands-on training. Needless to say, the Saudis will foot the bill, in the same way as they are sponsoring the new Palestinian "Constitution."
Hence, instead of taking up the "Arab Initiative" and dealing with it as a serious opportunity for regional stability and peace, the US has assigned functions and responsibilities to some Arab countries (the "trio" to complement the "quartet") while totally disregarding the essential political components that would signal seriousness of intent and commitment to a genuine resolution of the conflict.
Consequently, a new dynamic in Palestinian-Arab relations has been introduced, with some Arab countries taking on bits and pieces of the responsibility for Palestinian "welfare," including proxy negotiations (i.e. until the Palestinians come up with "acceptable" names for representation and negotiations, as the three that have finally been "invited" to address the powers that be in Washington).
The elusive mechanism of an "International Conference" has apparently fallen by the wayside, another victim of Israeli conditionality.
The Leadership Question-Failures and Prospects:
All is not lost, however, with the resurgence of interest in Palestinian elections that would enable the international community to meet Israel's other preconditions. Having bought time for the Israeli occupation to escalate its violence and land grab, having placed "security" at the top of the agenda to bring the Palestinians to "stop the violence" while Israel continues to employ the most provocative forms of military force, and having deflected any attempts at launching a decisive and viable political action plan for peace, the US is now seeking to "democratize" the Palestinians through the holding of elections (provided the outcome, of course, would be a new and more flexible leadership). Sharon is thus spared the distasteful task of "eliminating" Arafat (in more ways than one).
Elections are, needless to say, desirable and indispensable tools of democracy, and the Palestinian people have been yearning for the free and fair exercise of their democratic rights.
In order to carry out this right, the Palestinians need the proper conditions on the ground. Such Israeli collective punitive measures as the siege, fragmentation, incursions, reoccupation, and curfews must be halted and unraveled immediately to provide the minimal physical requirements for elections.
Acts of escalation and deliberate provocation and incitement such as assassinations, abductions, and collective detentions must also end. The political climate would thus be conducive to the holding of relatively untainted elections. Should Israel be allowed to persist in these policies and measures, then the results of the elections would be skewed, dictated by the radicalization of pain, revenge, and victimization.
Just as important is the internal question of leadership, multi-party democracy, and the peaceful transfer of authority in a culture of free and honest public debate and political pluralism.
Although the more radical or hard line factions and movements seem to be gaining ground at present, and despite the fact that separate actions and agendas are being arbitrarily imposed on the whole Palestinian people with no policy consultation or consensus, there are other intrinsic Palestinian features that require serious assessment.
Within Palestinian society, a vibrant and candid political debate is raging, perhaps indicating a period of foment and substantive change. Public discourse, particularly within civil society, is displaying an urgent need for the formulation of serious policy decisions through an active and honest engagement and assessment.
In light of the PA's failure to provide effective leadership both in nation-building and in peace-making, and given the inadequacy of factional politics, the Palestinian people are in search (and in need) of a new leadership that would be able to chart an effective course for a future of peace with justice and governance with integrity.
Repeatedly, the simplistic polarization of choice between a corrupt and inept nationalist regime on the one hand, and an extremist, ideological Islamist alternative on the other has been exposed as unacceptable and inadequate.
A significant current is represented by a variety of "independent" voices and forces that have remained outside both poles, primarily concentrated in civil society institutions and NGO's in the absence of political parties that would form their natural address.
These democratic currents are also present in several existing factions and movements, including the Fateh mainstream, but have hitherto failed to mobilize or join forces in order to challenge the prevailing political culture.
If they manage to overcome the present operative obstacles and traditional legacies of factional politics, such currents would be the natural grounds from which new movements and parties would emerge. To succeed, they need to address the issues raised by younger generations and empower their new leaderships. Similarly, they must appeal to the women's movement and genuinely adopt a gender agenda that would break traditional norms and patterns of exclusion and discrimination.
Their political program must provide the Palestinian people with a coherent and decisive policy leading to the end of the occupation and the establishment of the viable democratic Palestinian state, which, inevitably, requires a firm and unapologetic strategy for achieving a just peace. Such a commitment must be bold and implementable, but clearly articulated in a consistent and candid public discourse capable of rallying solid constituency support and building a consensus for peace.
The domestic dimension of this platform must be equally forthright in its plans to implement a democratic program for social justice and the rule of law without appeasement or concessions on principles. Without these two components, no "democratic" movement can succeed in meeting the dual challenges of internal empowerment and nation-building with integrity, and of peacemaking with confidence and dignity.
At one point, the "democratic movements" will have to be prepared to lock horns with both poles of traditional power (the old-time factional nationalists and the political Islamists) by presenting themselves as a clear alternative to both.
It does not require much intelligence to realize that the present leadership is undergoing its last stages of transition. It could buy more time and maneuver itself into a "modified and improved" system with many of the same faces and a few additional "tokens," but without gaining credibility with or support from its own people. It is also doubtful whether "external" players would put up with such arrangements for long, although they might be willing to accommodate them temporarily to carry out certain security and financial "obligations" and reforms.
It is more likely that "extensions" of the current leadership would utilize the "power" gained by their association with it in order to present themselves as more "acceptable" candidates to the US and others in search of an alternative leadership. Such a scenario might work for a limited period of time, particularly since such "alternatives" from within the power system are unlikely to gain the confidence and trust of the people. Their source of legitimacy being the traditional/symbolic leadership, they would have a hard time relying on external sources. At best, they too would be transitional.
Both options will have to rely on traditional sources of power that are summed up in control of the finances of the authority, cooperation with or control of the security forces, plus a historical political front, mainly from the known Fateh personalities.
Only free and fair general elections can begin to produce a genuine, authentic, and accountable leadership that can claim a real constituency-hence credibility and confidence to lead.
While the "Old Guard-New Guard" current classification of leadership is simplistic, it is clear that a newer generation untainted by past failures will stand the best chance in the long run.
It is most likely that such a new leadership will emerge primarily from the occupied territories (rather than the "returnees"), with a history of national struggle, but not necessarily the most militant. They must avoid the temptation to "settle old scores" or, conversely, to enter into opportunistic alliances.
Their natural allies, in addition to the youth and women, are within civil society and grass roots NGO's that can mobilize on the basis of shared principles and objectives.
Unless immediate action is taken to de-escalate and curb Israeli punitive policies, it would be for such a leadership to emerge from the next elections. Constituency building and party formation would require more time than available and less warped conditions than the present quagmire of conflicting interests. Still, many might see in them the solution to the current crises and a mechanism for political rectification and organization. However, it would be worthwhile to pursue a more detailed and comprehensive assessment of possible scenarios and outcomes in a separate study.
The present variables, however, make any future predictions on all fronts far from reliable, given the conflicting nature of multiple agendas at work and the murky status of the Palestinian territory and people-from a violent and unaccountable Israeli occupation, to a Palestinian Authority bound by tattered agreements and multiple pressures for survival, to a domestic opposition that has proven to be politically adventurous and bankrupt, to a unique form of neo-colonial patronage with a biased agenda, to a multinational mandate with functional interventionism but no political power.
All have succeeded in "subjectifying" legal agreements and accords, in nullifying international law, and in negating UN resolutions and the will of the international community. At no other time in history do we find an analogous situation of total vulnerability without means of protection, with such authoritative interference lacking any will to resolve the causes and core issues.
The tragic irony lies in the fact that the solution is painfully obvious to all parties involved. Unfortunately, the absence of political will, the dominance of individual self-interest and opportunism, the rise of ideological extremism and alliances, the absence of responsible foreign/global policies, and the legacy of disastrous regional realities have combined on all fronts to prevent its implementation. The price continues to be increased human suffering and loss of life.