The Palestinians Must Let the People Choose New Leaders

The discord between Hamas and Fatah and the dependence on outsiders are eroding the Palestinians’ chances for achieving their national goals.

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Palestinians celebrating in Ramallah after the PA was given status as a UN non-member state.
Palestinians celebrating in Ramallah after the PA was given status as a UN non-member state.Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will officially present his diplomatic plan to Arab foreign ministers next week, before a Palestinian delegation sets off for a session of the UN Security Council.

In New York, the Palestinians will once again demand their own state based on the 1967 borders. Abbas will undoubtedly receive the Arab League’s support, even if such backing isn’t much of a surprise.

The real battle will involve the United States and the international community as a whole. Abbas’ plan, most of which has been leaked to the media, calls for international recognition of the 1967 borders and the end of the occupation within three years. The other core issues would be dealt with after the border issue.

The Palestinians are well aware that Israel and perhaps the United States will not be partners to the plan, at least in the foreseeable future. But Abbas has no alternative. The Gaza war has put Hamas and its leader, Khaled Meshal, on the front line against Israel, so Abbas has to return to the international arena.

Still, Abbas has a Plan B if the process fails. He can turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He can also use his doomsday weapon: Dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand over responsibility for the entire West Bank to Israel.

For its part, Hamas is in no hurry to demand borders and sovereignty. But Hamas has legitimate demands regarding the Gaza Strip: lifting the blockade, building a port and rebuilding the airport.

The organization has no need for a diplomatic plan recognizing the 1967 borders, which would require it to recognize Israel. It has no use for negotiations on demilitarization and disarmament.

The minutes of the August 21 meeting in Qatar between Abbas and Meshal, which were disclosed this week by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, increase the sense that the reconciliation process between Hamas and the PA led by Abbas’ Fatah has run aground. The two sides don’t appear to be overcoming their differences.

Each side says the other is being held hostage to third-party interests, is not making independent decisions and has no mandate to negotiate peace or wage war against Israel. Hamas says Abbas is dependent on Israel and the United States; the PA says Hamas is beholden to Qatar and the Turks, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The calls for reconciliation and cooperation have apparently become empty slogans. To the average Palestinian, Abbas’ demands for borders and a state, as well as Hamas’ demand for the Gaza blockade to be lifted, are certainly legitimate, but the lack of a unified political stance remains an obstacle.

Israel is taking advantage of this situation to the hilt. It isn’t getting ruffled by Abbas’ plan or his threats, it just keeps bashing Hamas. Just as settlement expansion is eating into the land earmarked for a Palestinian state, the absence of a unified Palestinian stance and independent decision-making are eroding the Palestinians’ chances for achieving their national aspirations.

Therefore, in tandem with Abbas’ demand for borders and the end of the occupation — either with the international community’s help or not — the Palestinians must demand elections.

The Palestinian people must choose who will lead them. The average citizen must choose the leaders. Just as a state without borders may not be a real state, leaders without a mandate from the people are not real leaders.