May/June 1991, Page 18a Reprit from the Washington Report on the Middle East
Time For Change
By Sami Jadallah
Iraqi Information Minister Hamid Yussef Hummodi recently announced the award to President Saddam Hussain of his country’s highest award, the Rafaidain Medal, “in appreciation of the president’s exceptional and historic role and noble service to Iraq.”
We must demand an accounting of all our assets.
This “award” should not surprise those familiar with the ways of the Arabs in this century who have bestowed such honors on those leaders who have led their nations to humiliation and destruction. When the late President Gamal Abdul Nasser lost the 1967 war he was tricked into fighting (and Jerusalem was lost with it), the Palestinians were sentenced to indefinite imprisonment at hard labor under Israeli occupation. The “Arab street, ” however, went into a frenzy and demanded that Abdul Nasser rescind his largely theatrical decision to step down.
This, of course, stands in contrast to the Israeli Jews, who forced Prime Minister Golda Meir and General Moshe Dayan to step down, holding both responsible for the initial setbacks suffered by the Israeli Defense Forces in the first few days of the 1973 war.
It is difficult to understand our behavior as Arabs in this matter of accountability. If the “Arab street” were to make their leaders accountable for their failures, it is doubtful that many contemporary Arab leaders would remain in power. However, as a Palestinian, it is not my purpose to judge other people’s leaders, but only our own leaders. It is not only our inalienable right to hold our leaders accountable, it is our duty as well. The fact that the US and other countries are “unhappy ” with the PLO is irrelevant to Palestinians as we exercise that duty.
For the last 25 years or so, the present Palestinian leadership has enjoyed an undisputed monopoly as leaders of the Palestinian people. With the exception of Abu Musa’s internal and costly challenge to Arafat, no one from outside or inside the formal structure of the Palestine Liberation Organization has tried to challenge the leadership. The PLO and the Palestine National Council (the Palestinian parliament in exile) continue to reinforce each other, and both continue to perpetuate their own existence and exclusive role at the expense of the cause to liberate Palestine. After so many years, the fact remains that neither have liberated a single inch of our land.
We Palestinians must subject our leaders to a stringent cost benefit analysis of their decisions and performance.
Ever since 1964, when the present leadership assumed its current position of authority, the Palestinian ledger has been in the red, with the exception of the second quarter of 1982. (This was the period of the valiant defense of Beirut during the Israeli invasion.) Without discounting the strength of Israel and its powerful lobbies, we must demand an accounting of all our assets including those most valuable to us—our people.
We must not single out Yasser Arafat and his personal circle of advisers, but must also include George Habbash, Nayef Hawatmeh, Abu Musa and all the remaining “Abus” who engage themselves as full-time public servants of the Palestinian cause.
We can identify many major failures of the Palestinian leadership. Among them are the rout of Palestinians in Jordan in 1970, the inter-factional fighting in Lebanon in the good old days, the leaving behind in 1982 of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons and ammunition which were confiscated by the advancing Israeli army and, most tragically, the failure to protect the lives of innocent thousands who were sacrificed in incompetent military operations. While the Israeli leaders look after their dead, our leaders have failed to look after the living.
Without sounding ungrateful to the Palestinian leadership named above, it is time for the “old guard” to retire with dignity, with the full respect of a grateful nation. Whichever way we look at it, the current leadership is of the same mold and mentality of the leadership which lost Palestine in the first place.
As disturbing as the failures of our leadership is the deafening silence of our “intellectuals.” Unlike intellectuals at the forefront of change in other countries, our “intellectuals” generally supported the status quo.
Whenever Palestinians have dared to criticize the leadership of the PLO and its institutions, they are automatically labeled as “traitors.” No distinctions are made between loyalty to a cause and loyalty to individuals. In the past, our hesitation to criticize has been a reaction to the criticism of Palestinians and their leaders by those outside of the Palestinian nation. In a hostile environment, we have been concerned that any attempt to hold our leaders accountable would leave the Palestinian community in even greater jeopardy. Ironically, this policy has resulted in that very same jeopardy we hoped to avoid.
Perhaps the most disastrous failure of our leadership has been in the United States—just where it counts the most. Here, the leaders of the PLO and the Palestinian people have failed to recognize the importance of the US, its Congress, the media and other institutions. Judging by the efforts expended upon the US, one may conclude that the Palestinian leadership has given the least emphasis to Israel’s primary ally, wasting precious resources in dictatorial Eastern Europe and Africa.
If for no other reason, the Palestinian leadership’s failure in the United States is sufficient and compelling reason to step aside and allow a more enlightened, competent, and accountable leadership to take charge of a very moral and humane cause.
Sami Jadallah is a Palestinian-American businessman not affiliated with any government or political organization.