Failed Leaders Do Not Deserve to Become "Presidents" / Khaled Abu Toameh

September 2, 2011
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants to go down in history as a leader who defied Israel, the US and many EU countries by asking the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. He wants to be remembered as a leader who made a historic achievement for his people by persuading more than 122 countries to support the statehood bid he is about to launch at the United Nations.

Abbas is so desperate that he is prepared to go to the UN even if such a move could turn out to be counterproductive for his people. At all costs, he wants to enjoy the glory of being the "first president of Palestine".

He has chosen to turn a blind eye to legal opinions by international experts who tell him that UN recognition of a Palestinian state would abolish the PLO's status as the "sole and legitimate" representative of the Palestinian people.

According to these opinions, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which would be replaced by the state of Palestine, would no longer be able to claim that it represented millions of Palestinian refugees living around the world. After the Palestinian state is declared, the PLO would no longer be able to say that it represented the refugees, and therefore would not be able to demand the "right of return." According to the legal experts, in other words, millions of Palestinian refugees would be deprived of the "right of return" to their former villages inside Israel.

The experts have also warned Abbas that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be reduced to a mere dispute over territory and borders between two states, and not a national, religious or ideological confrontation. This means that the conflict would no longer center around important issues like Jerusalem, the holy sites, settlements, water and refugees.

The 76-year-old Abbas, however, is evidently not concerned about the consequences of his UN gamble.

So what if the Americans cut off more than $500 million in annual aid to the Palestinians?

Who cares if many of the Palestinians' friends in Europe are advising Abbas that his initiative would damage the peace process and further complicate the situation in the Middle East?

And who cares if even some Arab countries are opposed to the statehood plan? Just this week it was reported that Jordan's King Abdullah II had advised Abbas to reconsider the statehood bid out of fear that it would result in the loss of the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.

Like the rest of the Arab regimes, the Jordanians are afraid that a Palestinian state would mean that millions of refugees living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would stay in these countries.The refugees do not want to go to a Palestinian state in the 1967 territories.They want to go back to Israel, and this is what the Palestinian Liberation Organization has been demanding. So if the PLO is gone, the refugees will not have anyone to represent their case.

A Palestinian state will not be able to demand that its own people be allowed to go and live in another country -- Israel.

The Arabs do not want to help the Palestinians and would prefer to see them leave rather than absorb them. Palestinians are regarded by Arab governments as trouble-makers and a threat to stability of these regimes.

The Arab countries, which treat the Palestinians as second- and third-class citizens, are dying to get rid of the refugees. These countries, furthermore, have always refused to give the Palestinians full rights and better living conditions.

But Abbas cares less about the Palestinians and more about his image. His resume so far includes a long list of blunders and unwise decisions, although even his political adversaries agree that he is much better than his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.

Prior to his election in January 2005, Abbas promised the Palestinians good government, democracy and an end to financial corruption. Instead, he has since surrounded himself with many of Arafat's former cronies and officials suspected of involvement in the embezzlement of public funds.

Credit for the recent economic boom in the West Bank and the establishment of proper state institutions goes to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and not to Abbas and his Fatah. That is why the Fatah does not like Fayyad: because he gets the glory, amd because he has made it harder to steal funds.

It is also why jealous leaders of Fatah have been working behind the scenes to undermine his efforts.

Abbas and his entourage have also blocked the emergence of a new generation of younger and more charismatic leaders. The decision-making process in Ramallah continues to be under the monopoly of Abbas and five or six associates.

Under Abbas, the ruling Fatah faction lost the entire 2006 parliamentary election –- and a year later, the entire Gaza Strip -– to Hamas.

Abbas is the person responsible for the fact that the Palestinians already have two states – one in the West Bank and another in the Gaza Strip.

As for" democracy" and "freedom of expression," these terms do not seem to exist in the lexicon of decision-makers in Ramallah.

It is with this unimpressive resume that Abbas is now hoping to become the first internationally recognized head of the state of Palestine.

Failed leaders need to step aside and pave the way for new faces.

Failed leaders should not be rewarded for bringing their people to the brink of the abyss.

Khaled Abu Toameh is a Palestinian Journalist
Published by personal permission of the author

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