Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why Palestinian Arabs cannot govern themselves

Despite all the faults of the Arab countries - despite all of their anti-semitism, misogyny, corruption, antipathy towards the West, persecution of minorities and myriad other problems - they still manage to keep their governments going. Even when run by dictators or monarchs-for-life, a government still needs thousands of faithful civil servants to do the millions of ordinary, boring bureaucratic functions to keep things running, and the Arab world has been pretty successful at this job for decades. Arab governments have survived assassinations and other deaths of their leaders without collapsing. While there have been exceptions like Lebanon and Iraq/Kuwait, for the most part there is a fairly reliable status-quo.

One of the outstanding attributes of Palestinian Arabs, however, has been their utter inability to create or maintain a functioning government. Ironically, even though Palestinian Arabs have traditionally had more education - and more common sense - than their Arab brethren, they have completely failed in choosing effective leadership.

Why should this be?

We need to look at the history of Palestinian Arabs to understand why PalArabs never truly had any leadership.

There have been three major periods of Pali leadership: the Husseini era, the Arafat era and the Intifada era.

The Husseini era, where the de facto leader of the Palestinian Arabs was the Mufti of Jerusalem, was by any objective analysis a disaster. Haj Amin al-Husseini used his supposed leadership to enhance his own status and to launch terror attacks against the British and the Jews; while the Zionists were building institutions and filling any vacuum that the British would leave, the Arabs attacked and whined about how they weren't being treated fairly. The 1936 riots - which the Arabs of Palestine still consider their "Great Revolt" - resulted in the Husseini factions crushing their Arab rivals, then in the British expulsion of Husseini (where he got cozy with Hitler) and it left no one to truly lead the PalArabs. Historians are practically unanimous that this was the reason that the Zionists won in 1948 - they were better prepared than the Palestinian Arabs were and most of the neighboring Arab countries were big on promises but short on the actual desire to help.

The Palestinian Arabs were left leaderless through the 50s and most of the 60s, but they romanticized the Husseini era as a golden age of Palestinian Arab nationalism. The West Bankers seemed pretty satisfied with being under Jordanian rule.

While the Arab nations gained independence and started doing the real work involved in keeping countries going, their leaders paid lip service to the "Palestinian cause" - using them as pawns in their own power plays. Yet the leaderless Palestinian Arabs believed them even as these leaders showed no desire to create an independent Arab Palestine and continued to discriminate against them.

The long-dormant "cause" got resurrected after the Six Day War as the Arab nations realized that their Pali pawns might be able to accomplish through terror what the Arabs could not do with military power. And Yasir Arafat, a clone of Amin Husseini, stepped right up to do what Husseini did: he used power to increase his own prestige, to terrorize not only the Jews but the entire world in a spectacularly successful play for sympathy, and he did nothing to actually help the people that he was supposedly leading. No institution building, no nation building, no planning a state. And yet, the Palestinian Arabs - marginalized by other Arab nations and invisible for decades - enthusiastically embraced Arafat, who had no ability nor desire to change his persona as a revolutionary into a leadership role.

Like Husseini in 1936, Arafat overreached in 2001 and ended up turning from a respected putative leader into a reviled and marginalized non-entity because he only knew how to use terror to achieve his goals. But his accomplishment of unifying the Palestinian Arabs is viewed as nothing less than heroic by the very people he ended up hurting the most with his policies.

It is instructive to learn that the Palestinian Arab per capita GDP peaked not during the Oslo period , but in 1992 - when PalArabs were still fully under Israel's economic control. Even with the millions being donated by the world towards Oslo, with everyone including Israel supporting Palestinian Arab independence, the PalArabs themselves could not find the leadership to pull it off. Instead, they happily kept the Arafat personality cult and kleptocracy intact.

After Arafat's syphilitic life ended, a new era of non-leadership emerged. Mahmoud Abbas never had either Arafat's charisma nor his blood-thirst, and as a result the more radical "leaders" rushed to fill the void for a people who desperately want them. The PalArabs are severely hampered by their own deeply flawed ideas of leadership and heroism that have been inculcated in them now for generations. Using Husseini and Arafat as their heroes and prototypical leaders, the Palis are unable to find nor support the fresh blood and new, pragmatic leadership that they need. While the Arab nations have been able for the most part to move on past the Nasser era and into practical governance, as corrupt and flawed as it may be, the Palestinian Arabs have been left behind with no idea of what kind of leader can get them out of their limbo. Terror-worship remains, new "martyrs" are celebrated daily and the cult of death has been implanted, almost genetically, into their collective psyche.

This cartoon was recently shown in a Saudi newspaper:

Terrorist on right: "Don't forget, when you want to blow yourself up, make sure you do so with your right hand – blowing yourself up with your left hand is forbidden!"

Source: Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, December 26, 2007

It seems strange that Saudi Arabia, a proud theocracy as well as supporter of terror, can effectively make fun of the "religious" dimensions of suicide bombing.

It is explainable because the Saudi royal family is a target of Islamist terror as well, and high on Al-Qaeda's list. The practical realities of running a country trumps sloganeering and some types of martyr-worship.

But can one imagine this cartoon appearing in a Palestinian Arab newspaper? Not at all. The entire Palestinian Arab culture is so dependent on their self-image as "resistance warriors" for their cause, and suicide bombing is such an integral part of that self-image, that it is unthinkable that such a cartoon could appear in the West Bank. Similarly, no Palestinian Arab leader would dare denounce terror as a tactic when it has been the cornerstone of all previous leaders from Husseini to now. The Palestinian Arabs are held hostage to their own national myths of the beauty of terror, and it is inconceivable that a strong leader can emerge that can denounce terror while at the same time build a responsible, pragmatic society that can live in peace with all of its neighbors.

And it will take at least another generation for the poisonous, self-destructive mindset to be eradicated from the PalArab psyche. Until it happens, they will remain without true leadership, as they have been for decades.