Op-Ed via Middle East Eye

Why Palestinians must rethink their governance

As rumours swirl about the state of health of Mahmoud Abbas, debate is raging within US and Israeli political circles about who will succeed the 83-year-old Palestinian president.

Media outlets and think-tanks have also joined in,  debating names and presenting contenders, and speculating on what a possible transition process, or lack thereof, might look like. With their stability-first mantra, Palestinian security officials top the lists.

But from a Palestinian perspective, this dynamic should trigger a serious and long-awaited debate on re-envisioning the Palestinian political and governance systems, as well as the whole question of political leadership.

Scrapping one-man rule

Three things could help to build an inclusive and participatory political system, which could empower Palestinians in their journey towards self-determination, statehood and meaningful democracy.

Firstly, the one-man leadership model should be replaced with a collective form of leadership. The “supreme leader” model is not only obsolete, dysfunctional and anti-democratic, but it has also been damaging to the Palestinian struggle and the national liberation project.

Palestinians, and their journey to self-determination, has suffered major negative consequences as a result of the differing, personalised styles of governance over the years (from Arafatism, to Fayyadism, to Abbasism) and the one-man-show paradigms they have adopted. It is time to lay that mode of governance to rest, and envisage a collective model of leadership.

Although in theory, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership model is collective in nature, in practice, it is anything but that. This is why the PLO was co-opted by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and then why the PA was co-opted by Israel - the occupying power - stripping Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza of their transformative potential.

This is also why Palestinians have been alienated from the core of the Palestinian political system, and why they ultimately persist under Israeli occupation and Palestinian authoritarianism. The one-leader model - be it the father of the nation (Yasser Arafat), the partner for peace (Abbas), or the internationally backed technocrat (Salam Fayyad) - has failed the Palestinian people miserably.

Supervisory councils

It is, therefore, time to rethink the very positions and titles of the PLO chairman and PA president, and their symbolic trappings of statehood, and scrap them altogether.

Instead, the Palestinian people need an elected committee of leaders - a small group (ideally four, with representation from both genders) who can form a political bureau, with each carrying different but complementary responsibilities and similar political weight. One could handle internal and social affairs, one external and foreign affairs, one economic and development affairs, and one education and youth affairs.

This division of labour at the leadership level would ensure the national project could not be hijacked by one leader and his political party, vision and programme. It would ensure better accountability, transparency, inclusiveness and positive trickle-down effects on the everyday lives of Palestinians.

The political bureau would not function in a vacuum, but rather be supported by and be accountable to two different supervisory councils: one formed of elders and one of youth (defined as 35 years of age or younger). The two councils, with equal gender balance and representatives of different stakeholder groups, classes and localities - and not exceeding 15 members per council, serving terms of up to three years - would play a crucial role in formulating strategies and reviewing their implementation.

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