Late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat used to tell a story that sums up the Palestinian situation today. The story was about a Palestinian man who moved to India and became a popular god.
One day, the Palestinian man and Arafat met in India and had the following exchange:
Palestinian man in India: “Mr. Arafat, ever since I moved from Palestine to India, I became a god, and now I have a following of six million loyal and dedicated people.”
Arafat looks the man in the eyes and says: “My brother, you are a god to six million people in India, but I am a president to six million gods in Palestine.”
In short, Arafat always reminded his guests that he is ruling in a place where there are too many chiefs but not enough Indians.
Hamas answered President Abbas’ call for elections on January 24 by announcing that they also might hold presidential elections in Gaza on the same day. This would mean two Palestinian presidents, two parliaments, and eventually two Palestinian states.
What would Arafat have done if Hamas took over Gaza while he was alive? Arafat would have traveled to Gaza, kissed and made up with Hamas’ leadership on television, and called them brothers and announced that the Palestinian blood would never become water. On the same night, he would have ordered the arrest of all their men, and crippled their ability to ever challenge his authority again.
President Abbas could never do what Arafat might have done. That is why when the Palestinians elected Abbas, they thought of him as a transition figure; not as a new leader with a new style of leadership that would replace Arafat’s era.
Abbas gets upset, takes matters personally, and sends delegations to talk to Hamas in Cairo. This is exactly what Hamas wants: to be seen as a legitimate and equal partner in governance, so that they eventually could control both the West Bank and Gaza.
So far, President Abbas has failed as a transition figure. Whether or not he is fully to blame for the failure is a different question. The fact remains that he has not introduced a new style of leadership and vision that would lead the Palestinians to a better future.
For example, Abbas is yet to even appoint a deputy president, or pursue corrupt figures. I know of a story where someone tried to bribe Abbas himself, and all what Abbas did was to get upset, refuse the bribe, and stop talking to the person. What happened to the rule of law? Why isn’t that person in jail, Mr. President?
In my opinion, Abbas should do the following: as the Palestinian president he should rise above Fatah and Hamas, and decide not to seek re-election.
He should set precedent by appointing a capable person like the current Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as his deputy, and declare his support for independent personalities that could benefit the Palestinian people. Fayyad has done a marvelous job in building Palestinian institutions that will form the foundation for a future Palestinian state. What we need, Mr. President is more Indians and less chiefs.