Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The dangers of Palestinian populism
The Middle East Media Review Institute (MEMRI) has a very interesting article from a Qatari-based newspaper, in which progressive Jordanian intellectual Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi calls for the need for Palestinian leadership to reject Arafat's populism. Al-Nabulsi highlights Arafat's penchant for populist decision-making that weakened his international standing and killed any hopes for a true journey to peace in the Middle East. He calls on Mahmoud Abbas to to be act on behalf of the greater interests of the Palestinian people. Al-Nabulsi states:

"Abbas must put an end to the unrealistic illusions that Arafat promised the bleeding, revolutionary public, and must confront them with the bitter truths. One of these truths is that the return of four million Palestinian refugees to Israel is an utterly impossible [demand], which spells out the destruction of the State of Israel. If there is a right of return for the refugees, the only place that can absorb them is the land of the Palestinian state."

"Political decision-making [must be carried out] on the basis of the interests of the Palestinian people, and not on the basis of its desires and hopes. The populist decisions adopted by the Arab political leaders were the cause of the Arabs' disasters and their regression to their current situation. The Palestinian leadership must be courageous and not think about itself and its fate while making a political decision, but [must] bear in mind the interests of the homeland, the nation, and the future of the generations [to come]."

"All the intellectuals and businessmen should participate in the political building of the Palestinian state. Intellectuals should participate [in the building of the state] by means of [political] awareness, a call for political rationalism, and by fighting against suicide operations. Businessmen should participate [in the building of the state] by means of support of Palestine's economy and by building the institutions of a civil society. These should replace the social institutions which were established by the armed religious factions and through which [they] have managed to rake in the support of a large sector of Palestinian society."

Political leadership of this sort walks an incredibly fine line. As an elected leader, Mahmoud Abbas must comply with the will of his people, but must also make courageous and often unpopular moves, if there is to be any hope of peace in the region. It takes a special type of charismatic leader to achieve this, one which we in this country know very well. One wonders though, if Mahmoud Abbas will be able to keep the entrenched ideologies, desires and demands of the Palestinian people in check. We can only hope...