Bassem Eid: “We Palestinians need Dignity, not Identity.”

On a recent trip to Israel, this reporter repeatedly heard the refrain “If only the Palestinian people had decent leadership that sought out their people’s best interests, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be possible.” In a Brooking Institute article by Khaled Elgindy (January 5, 2016), titled “The Palestinian Leadership Crisis,” Elgindy writes: “A recent poll conducted just before the latest upsurge in violence, for example, found that nearly two-thirds of Palestinians want Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.  Moreover, the absence of credible and coherent Palestinian leadership has major implications, not only for the future of the Palestinian national movement, but for the prospects of an Israeli-Palestinian peace and broader U.S. policy goals in the region.”

In the aftermath of WWI, the Palestinian-Arab community, unlike the “Yeshuv,” (the Jewish community in pre-State Palestine), failed to establish their own modern political institutions. In the neighboring Arab states, institutions such as Parliament, political parties, and a constitution had been established. Instead, the Palestinians relied on leading families who pursued their personal and family interests, rather than the interests of their people.  These were the generally urban (Jerusalem based) families such as the al-Husseini’s, and al-Nashashibis.  The Palestinian-Arabs lacked a political framework and failed to grasp the notion of self-determination.

Palestinian leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (The Mufti of Jerusalem and Adolf Hitler’s ally and friend), to Yasser Arafat, and Mahmoud Abbas, sought to incite their Palestinian people against the Jews through intimidation, boycotts and violence.  None considered establishing democratic institutions that would serve the Palestinian people through the rule of law, human and civil rights, and religious freedom, while simultaneously serving their political and economic interests.  Instruments of power such as the media, mosques, and the educational system echo the violent messages of these leaders.

The Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, incited murderous violence against Jews in Jerusalem during Passover on April 4, 1920.  The unprovoked riots against Jews led to the establishment of the Haganah, a Jewish defense force, established by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.  On August 23, 1929, an Arab mob, incited by Haj Amin al-Husseini, launched an assault on Jerusalem’s Jews over Jewish prayers at the Western Wall. It soon spread to the ancient Jewish community of Hebron, where 67 Jews were massacred in cold blood. Husseini was sentenced for the 1920 riots, but was pardoned by the British appeasers.  In April, 1936, Palestinian-Arab riots, ostensibly against the British Mandatory government, broke out again. It was led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, this time under the cover of the Arab High Committee.  It went from a general strike and boycott of Jewish products to murderous violence against Jews.  It ultimately resulted in another British Royal Commission of investigation, this time named the Peel Commission.  In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended the partition of Palestine as a result of Husseini’s objections to any Jewish presence on the land. 

The same lack of Palestinian leadership that turned down the Peel Commission recommendation for partition, rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have resulted in a Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat, a distant relative of Haj Amin al-Husseini, emulated his predecessor by initiating the Second Intifada in September, 2000.  The pretext was similar to the one used by Haj Amin al-Husseini, a visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon.  Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman, called upon the entire Islamic world to “Move immediately to stop these aggressions and Israeli practices against holy Jerusalem.”  It implied that the Jews intended to take over the holy Islamic sites.  Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the PA, has repeated this incitement in recent years. 

Deputy Director of the PA’s political and national education, Mazen Izz Al-Din, admitted on PA TV (May 28, 2002) that, “The Al-Aqsa intifada – if we want to be truthful, history will reveal one day – that the intifada and its objectives belong to the President and Supreme Commander Yasser Arafat.” 

Palestinian nationalists considered themselves to be part of “Southern Syria.”  French Mandatory troops however, took over Damascus on July 25, 1920, and deposed King Feisal, who was placed in Damascus by the British, and nominated as king by the Arab-Syrian Congress in March, 1920.  In other words, the notion of a separate Palestinian identity, much less a state, did not exist as such.  Damascus was set to be the capital of the Arab nation that unified young Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian Arab Muslims and Christians.  Israel’s establishment in 1948 prompted the Arab world to eradicate it.  Palestinians were used as a weapon against the Jewish state. “Palestinian nationalism” emerged in 1964 orchestrated by Egypt’s Nasser.  Ultimately, the aim was to destroy the Jewish state rather than build up institutions for a future Palestinian state.  This Palestinian dilemma still exists.

Elgindy pointed out that “the Palestinian polity continues to be plagued by institutional decline and growing authoritarianism. The Palestinian economy is crippled by recurring budget shortfalls, a massive internal debt, rising unemployment, and an over-dependency on international donor aid.  Meanwhile, Abbas’s four-year term has long since expired and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not convened in more than eight years. At the same time, Abbas’s rule has become increasingly repressive and intolerant of dissent, while the absence of a functioning parliament—or even a viable political opposition—has eliminated any meaningful mechanisms of accountability.”  The PA has proven to be not much different than most of the Arab dictatorships, where democracy and freedom of expression are non-existent.

In a Gatestone Institute piece (June 15, 2017), Khaled Abu Toameh wrote “Palestinians in PA’s West Bank controlled territories and Hamas’s Gaza Strip can only look at their neighbors in Israel and envy them for the democracy, free media and rule of law. Hardly a day passes without the Palestinians being reminded by both the PA and Hamas that they are still far from achieving their dream of enjoying democracy and freedom of expression. A free media is something that Palestinians can only continue to dream about.”  He added, “Palestinians were hoping to achieve an independent state of their own. In the end, however, they got two separate states - one in the West Bank and the second in the Gaza Strip - as a result of the power struggle between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But the real tragedy for the Palestinians is that neither the PA nor Hamas values human rights or public freedoms. The real tragedy of the Palestinians over the past few decades has been failed leadership, whether it is the secular PLO or the Islamist Hamas.

For decades now, Palestinians have been subjected to oppressive conditions created by their leaders, Arafat, Abbas in the PA, and Hamas’ Haniyeh in Gaza. This Palestinian leadership exposed ordinary Palestinians to violent confrontations with Israel that deprives them of economic and social progress. To use Bassem Eid’s (prominent Palestinian human rights activist) words imparted to this reporter, “We Palestinians do not need to fight for our identity, (we know exactly who we are), we need dignity, which means jobs, and dignified living that can support our families.”  The Palestinian leadership has been focused on killing Jews and destroying the Jewish state.  The time has come for the Palestinian to demand not only accountability from their leaders, but dignity that translates into jobs, the rule of law, respect for human rights, real peace with Israel, that could better the lives of Palestinian in their own domain.