Palestinians are in awe of Tunisia at this very moment. So are just about every other Arab people who have long felt the bite of oppressive regimes that exercise their iron fists on their own while bending like rubber to external parties. This is not lost on these regimes, who are currently sitting in quiet fear of upheaval and revolt in their own countries. Fair enough, it should be added, given that Zein Al Abideen bin Ali held his position as Tunisian president for 23 long years before all hell broke loose.
For the Palestinians, the concept of revolt against an oppressive power is nothing new. Since the early sixties, the Palestinian revolution has continued, with its ebbs and tides, until today. Palestinians continue to warm to the idea of revolting against the Israeli occupation even as negotiations and peace talks try to find alternative ways of solving the conflict. However, revolting against the occupying power is not the subject at hand right now. The question is whether the Palestinian leadership has reason to fear a revolt from within.
This is a difficult question to answer especially since we are not yet a “free” people and can therefore not blame our own government for all the ills that befall us. It is ultimately not the leadership’s fault that Gaza is separated from the West Bank or that Jerusalem has been completely isolated from its Palestinian surroundings or that less Palestinians have jobs inside Israel because of lack of permits. Whatever blame we would like to heap on our leadership in terms of its political line, the truth is, the Israeli occupation always calls the last shot and to this, Palestinians are powerless.
However, since we did agree to the formation of a Palestinian Authority, a sort of quasi-government that would govern our internal affairs instead of resorting to an Israeli civil administration, accountability must be applied to these people in power. And it is no secret that Palestinians are not always happy with the way they are being governed.
Take for example the split between Hamas and Fateh. Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip has not only rendered the Palestinian Authority’s more secular philosophy of rule obsolete there but it has also introduced extremely rigid codes of conduct on a people who pride themselves on their pluralism. Most Gazans are less than happy with ridiculous decrees from the de facto government about women smoking hubbly-bubblies in public places or having to carry around wedding licenses when traveling with their own husbands in a car.
In the West Bank, while these issues are not nearly as glaring, Palestinians are continually plagued with rumors of corruption within the Palestinian leadership’s higher echelons. A few months ago, after a report about the misuse of government cars surfaced in the media, the PA was up in arms. Of the many details released, one was that President Mahmoud Abbas had nearly 200 cars at his disposal.
The good thing is that there are conscious attempts within Palestinian civil society and even within some government circles not to allow Palestine to turn into another Tunisia. The Palestinian people understand that not all matters are in the full control of their leadership, including issues such as unemployment rates and even rising food prices. However, they also understand that some issues, such as the exploitation of government funds are something that must be dealt with internally.
This is the perfect time for our leadership here in the West Bank to prove to its people that it can be something other than another oppressive Arab regime. Just yesterday, 80 new cases were referred to the PA’s anti-corruption department for investigation, including some “high profile” officials, according to a report in the Palestinian media. While this is a great first step, the fear is that the files will be lost along the road, swept under the carpet by influential bribes and bulging pockets. If that happens, we can assure ourselves that we are no different than the regimes we criticize.
Protests may very well break out in other parts of the Arab world. Truth be told, Tunisia has given hope to other peoples that the regimes which rule them are not “people-proof” and that any structure can be perforated with the will and power of the masses. In Palestine, while there is always a potential for revolt against our own leadership –” especially if it does not give the people enough say in the decisions it makes –” such a revolt may not happen as long as Israel is the overriding power. This is no excuse though. If we are going to be an independent state with a sound leadership, it is never too early to start practicing. As long the presence of a Palestinian government is a reality, this government has the moral obligation to serve its people in the best possible manner.
Let Tunisia be a lesson and a red flag to us all. Peoples may stay silent for a time and may overlook some of its government’s indiscretions for a while. However, if they are oppressed and feel they have been treated unjustly, they will rise up and force change. We do not want to reach this stage, neither now nor after we gain our independence. Let us set an example for others, not only in the Arab world, but beyond. It is never too early or too late to set the record straight.