If one of the chief obligations of national leaders is to demonstrate, through example, the preferred qualities of nationhood such as civility, tolerance, mutual respect and equal rights, then the Palestinian leaders have failed their people entirely. Ever since Arabs and Jews have contended over the same piece of land, Palestinian leaders have ignored the work of building a sovereign structure for their own people and have focused instead on tearing down the one built by the Jews.
Haj Amin El Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the first acknowledged Palestinian leader, ceaselessly railed against Jews. In 1941, he travelled to Berlin to offer Adolf Hitler his services in the genocide then unfolding. After World War II, the government of Yugoslavia sought to prosecute him for war crimes.
Ahmad Shukairy, Husseini’s former aide, was the next leader of the Palestinians. In 1964, the Arab League appointed him to head the newly created Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Lebanese-born Shukairy was the first to hurl the apartheid slander at Israel even as he tirelessly advocated “driving the Jews into the sea.” “We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants, and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them,” Shukairy sermonized in Jerusalem on June 1, 1967.
Yasser Arafat, the next leader of the PLO, elevated terror to rich political currency even as he lied effortlessly to world leaders such as U.S. president Bill Clinton. From the lawn of the White House, with much of the world watching, he permanently foreswore violence. But his commitment was a ruse, because he actually viewed violence as a sanctified portal into Arab history. Three years after he signed the Oslo accords, he said in Stockholm, “We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilt to redeem our land!”
Even though current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeals more to western leaders, he does not engender the same loyalty among Palestinians that the fabled Arafat did. However, he spreads anti-Israel poison just as effectively. “The Muslim and Christian world will never accept Israeli claims that Jerusalem is theirs. Don’t let our holy sites be contaminated [by the presence of Jews],” Abbas urged his people just last month.
Palestinian leaders have never strayed from their core message: the rejection of a sovereign Jewish state. And yet, it is they who have won the propaganda war against Israel. Irrespective of the nature of the outrages they incite or direct against Israel, Palestinian leaders, unfortunately, are seldom held to account by the governments of the world or the countless social activists who march in solidarity with them on the streets of Europe and North America.
But though they have won the propaganda campaign, Palestinian leaders have abjectly lost the campaign that should have mattered most to them: fostering high national character and building a country.
In place of a people arcing determinedly, even nobly, toward nation-building, mustering individual and collective energies for scientific, economic, educational, fiscal, commercial, industrial, medical, engineering, governmental, cultural and social pursuits that nation-building requires, Palestinian leaders have inculcated, revelled in and glorified a national self-identity as perpetual victims. In a sense, they have deformed their people’s inherent goodness, drive and dynamism and created instead a deep, structural pathology that celebrates murderers, lionizes killers and kidnappers, and regards the annihilation of another people – Israel – as virtuous.
Propaganda, however, is evanescent. It changes as rapidly as the headlines atop a news story. But the need for a reliably strong and manifestly good national character transcends time. It is the foundation on which a prosperous, caring society must be built.
For their colossal disregard of what truly counts in a national psyche and ethos, Palestinian leaders will one day be seen as history’s worst serial abusers of their own people.