Thursday, September 28, 2006

A PalArab leader who really is a leader - and one who isn't

Palestinian Arabs themselves have historically always been far more pragmatic than their "leaders," who almost invariably are more interested in destroying the Zionist state than in building their own.

But once in a great while, you can find an exception:
LIKE every Palestinian town, Beita, a dusty home for 10,000 people spread across a hillside in the middle of the northern West Bank, has seen its fortunes dive since the start of the second intifada in 2000. Never prosperous, reliant on the wages of labourers who worked in Israel, it now has around 65% unemployment.

Yet since coming to office in December 2004, Arab Asharafa, the town's engaging and energetic mayor, has achieved something of a turnaround. He has widened the main road running through the town, is landscaping a new public park and opened a fruit and vegetable market that brings the council $100,000 a year in revenues (the market has gained at the expense of tightly-restricted Nablus, which used to be the main trading hub for the region). He has even started a project to bottle water from the town's spring and sell it, perhaps for export to Jordan.

What makes this remarkable is that the Beita council is dominated by Hamas, which ousted Fatah from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in elections this year. Well before the world's economic boycott of the PA began in March, foreign funding to local councils had begun drying up as Hamas took them over. Beita used to get 30-40% of its revenues from abroad, says Mr Asharafa; now it gets none.

Instead, Beita, under its Hamas mayor, provides an example of how Palestinians might start to wean themselves off donor-dependence. Its success comes partly because, while at the national level Fatah and Hamas are at loggerheads (talks on a national unity government, which seemed a done deal two weeks ago, are now stalled again), in Beita, as in many other mixed local councils, they co-operate.

It is also due to Mr Asharafa's mixture of charisma and creative thinking. He cracked down on electricity theft and non-payment of utilities bills while giving amnesties to students and the unemployed. He saves money by buying bulldozers and reselling them at the end of a project, instead of hiring. He talks businessmen into investing in public projects and taking a cut of the proceeds; at one point, he offered to put his own house up as collateral.

Politically, too, Mr Asharafa can permit himself statements that Hamas's senior leaders cannot. “Hamas must make peace with Israel,” he says, claiming that 90% of Palestinians want a two-state solution, and that the main obstacle—and reason why Hamas will not take the step of recognising Israel outright first—is a lack of trust.
While I, and every poll I've seen, disagree about the 90% number, this mayor symbolizes what Gaza could have been after Israel's withdrawal. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and blame, he actually acts to make life for his people better. He thinks creatively and he solves problems.

He sounds Jewish!

Too bad, Mr. Asharafa is the exception that proves the rule. He is more likely to be murdered for his views of a two-state solution than to be promoted to a ministerial position in the PA.
On the other hand, we have "leaders" like the current chairman of Fatah, Faruq Qaddumi. He advocates overthrowing the PA government because he doesn't like the infighting between Hamas and Fatah. But one of his quotes is very telling:
Fatah secretary general and head of the PLO politburo, Faruq Qaddumi, sharply criticized the Hamas and Fatah movements, warning that "their stubbornness will lead to fighting between Palestinian factions," and accusing those of taking in part in negotiations of "not wanting to reach an agreement."

In an interview to the London-based Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper, Qaddumi claimed that the lead negotiators between the movements "are not interested in reaching an agreement." He called on the Palestinians to overthrow their government "so that Israel will bear the responsibility for the lives of the Palestinians who still are under the fire of occupation."

In other words, this "leader" who still operates out of Tunis wants the Palestinian Arabs to remain in refugee camps forever. He realizes that if PalArabs take responsibility for their own nation, and try to improve it - try to make the lives of their people better, try to build an economy, try to fight the clan wars and infighting, try to bring real peace and security to the region - then the pressure will be off of Israel!

This has been the face of the PalArab "leadership" - ignore the people except for their usefulness as pawns to pressure Israel. Happy Palestinian Arabs are very counterproductive to people like Qaddumi (as well as Haniyeh), because they don't turn into terrorists. Happy citizens actually go to work, provide for their families, and build an economy. Unhappy citizens attend protest after protest and blame others for their problems. As long as their "leaders" can channel their hate towards Israel and not towards the leaders themselves, they remain secure in their destructive policies.

It is a bit ironic that in this case, the real leader is the member of the recognized terror group and the destructive "leader" is a member of the "moderate" Fatah. But it is not surprising: Fatah is no more enlightened than Hamas is; it just has better PR.