Editorial: The Biggest Losers

Just when it seems that the Palestinian people cannot not be more ill-served by its so-called “official leadership,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal have again proved their ineptitude. The question is, are their wards-the men and women on the streets of West Bank and Gaza-pawns in their leaders’ game of incompetence, or are they simply getting what they deserve?

On the heels of the poorly conceived gambit in which Abbas sought recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations, Abbas met in Cairo with Meshal, but failed to resolve the many issues that divide Abbas’ Fatah movement, which through the PA governs the West Bank, and Hamas, which oversees the Gaza territory.

Last May, Abbas and Meshal signed an agreement, brokered by the Egyptian military government, which called for a transitional unity cabinet of “unaffiliated technocrats” to prepare for new presidential and parliamentary elections which Abbas conveniently “forgot” to hold at the legally mandated time two years ago. Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram, reporting in The New York Times, noted, “It remained unclear even after the meeting on (last) Thursday whether the two sides were indeed committed to a further narrowing of their differences, and whether they would take any tangible steps toward power sharing soon or at all.”

Abbas has insisted on the PA’s Salam Fayyad, an American-educated economist, who is well-regarded internationally, as prime minister of a unified Palestinian government. Fayyad has devoted his premiership to preparing the West Bank for transformation into a secure and economically viable sovereign.

Hamas has continually rejected Fayyad, who, despite his own serious antipathies toward Israel, is a picnic contrasted with Hamas, labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. The only path for Hamas to become acceptable as a partner to the moribund “peace process” would be its recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of all previous agreements between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Both Abbas and Meshal are feeling significant political pressures. Abbas has hit a brick wall in his efforts to gain U.N. recognition as an independent member state. His formal bid for membership has been bottled up at the Security Council, where Abbas has been doubly blocked-he was unable to get the minimum of nine votes to send the motion to the General Assembly (GA). and the U.S. has said it would exercise its veto power in the absence of a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

As for Hamas and Meshal, they face the very real prospect of the toppling of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who has provided a safe-haven for Meshal in Damascus, and who with Iran has bankrolled and supplied weaponry to both Hamas and Hezbollah. Combine the volatility of Syria’s situation with the economic sanctions resulting from Iran’s push for nuclear weaponry, and Hamas and Meshal might find themselves even more isolated over time.

The Syria dynamic points to a very serious potential flaw in the thinking and tactics of both Abbas and Meshal, namely, the nuances of Arab Spring. No one knows what will happen across the region, but one thing seems fairly clear in the short run: The people of most of the nations involved are focused less on external support for a Palestinian cause than on revolutions directed toward their own self-governance.

Abbas’ push at the U.N. was calculated to draw support for statehood. As the PA’s recognition by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows, any number of Middle East Arab states will push a button for an automatic thumbs-up when the notion of Palestinian statehood and Israel antipathy comes round.

But no amount of effort to delegitimize Israel will be enough to build international support sufficient to create a lasting deal and peace. If there’s one lesson, for better or worse, the Arab Spring has taught, the people only get change, if at all, when they insist on it. Sometimes it’s relatively peaceful (Tunisia) and other times it’s awfully bloody (Libya, Syria) and results in stresses between the people and historically powerful institutions (Egypt).

Change has to come from those most negatively affected by the status quo. And so there won’t be real change in the Palestinian leadership unless those on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza insist on it. Unless they believe that a strong economy and peaceful security trump anti-Semitism and hatred toward Israel.

Say what you will about Israel’s own internal political and social strife (and there’s an awful lot to say), but the Israeli economy and governance allow for economic development and personal growth. On the Palestinian side? Not so much.