In 1995, one of the independent candidates for Palestinian parliamentary elections from Al Bireh ran on an interesting campaign. The former mayor of Al Bireh who was deported by Israel in the 1970s said that was the only homeland Palestinians have. The message was clear: whether one was for or against the Oslo peace process, one needed to deal first with the plight of the citizens.
Abdel Jawwad Saleh, a vocal member of the first Palestinian Legislative Council, didn’t run in the past elections.
I recall his slogan these days because Palestinians, especially those in leadership position, seem to have a memory lapse, be they Fateh supporters, still not willing to recognise that they lost the elections, or Hamas who seem to forget that winning the elections is the easy part, but ruling and providing for those who elect you is a completely different issue.
Fateh and Hamas spokesmen have been trying to divert the attention of their people by talking about a soon-to-be-agreed-upon national unity government or an almost completed prisoner exchange. While there might be some truth to these statements, it is clear that neither a unity government nor a prisoner exchange will do much to resolve some of the problems that facing Palestinians today, for which courageous and realistic leaders are needed, able to walk between Israel and the US without losing site of their main purpose, that of working tirelessly for the welfare of their people.
The recent Israeli war on Lebanon has shown a quality of leadership that has been missing in the Arab world. Hizbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah has proved that a leader can be both honest, courageous and mindful of the needs of his people. Instead of thinking about how they can duplicate the feats of the Hizbollah rockets, Palestinian leaders of all factions should try to emulate Nasrallah’s leadership qualities.
Many say that honesty and leadership are somehow incompatible. We certainly have had our share of dishonest leaders who incessantly tell us that Palestine will be free, the refugees returned and we will have a state with Jerusalem as its capital. Or who tell us that Israel is just about to capitulate if they carry out one more suicide bombing or shoot another amateur rocket. They promise with no worry about the possibility of delivering.
Delivering on a promise to a people requires understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, having an accurate understanding of Arab and international balance of forces and working tirelessly to preserve the national unity, which is the most basic of all ingredients for success.
Once such a Palestinian leader can honestly evaluate where we stand and what the possibility of success is, leading will require courage to plan properly and carry out the plan successfully. Courage, as Nasrallah has shown, also includes admitting that the results of your actions and the other side’s reaction were not as anticipated.
A leader of a people should never forget the people he is leading. We can’t have leaders who think of success at all cost, including that exacted of his people. Naturally any struggle requires sacrifices, and as we saw in Lebanon, Hizbollah leaders understood this and saw members of their own families sacrificed for the larger good. But as in Lebanon, if you ask people to sacrifice, you have to be ready to address their needs when this battle is over.
Leadership is not simply speaking eloquently on television, wearing nice suits or preaching in a crowded mosque. True leaders have to have the honesty to understand where they stand, the courage to tell their people the truth and to constantly remember that leadership is about serving the people.
While Saleh’s assessment about the only homeland is correct, we, the people are not obliged to choose a single leader or leading group. The search will go on for an honest, courageous leader who will remember to provide for his people’s basic needs and aspirations.