Vas Shenoy

Wanted: A Palestinian Gandhi

The moment: My screenshot at the moment of the vote. Online live stream from the Knesset on youtube.

A new dawn has risen in Israel after some of its darkest nights. For over two years the country floundered, election after election, without a government that was able to obtain a working majority. Bibi Netanyahu’s 12-year reign finished disappointingly for a man once respected by both, his friends and foes. It finished on a rather depressing note, with a fracture of Israeli society and a challenge to Israel’s status as the Middle East’s only functional democracy. While Netanyahu may be back soon, the new generation of Israeli politicians has now made their mark. Bibi stood in between the generation of giants such as Shimon Peres and Arik Sharon, who founded the state of Israel and the new generation of politicians who stand in shoes obviously too big for them.  This new government is also the coming of age of the new generation of politicians of Israel.

The last days of the conflict with Hamas and internal civil strife in Israel, cost a lot of lives but also killed hope. My most optimistic Israeli friends were desolate, never had they seen this level of internal conflict and animosity. While I watched the Knesset debate on the election for the new speaker and the new government, without understanding any Hebrew, the enthusiasm and excitement was palpable and hope was born again. No one knows how long the Bennet-Lapid government will last, however it is the most representative government Israel has had in the longest time, if not in its history and with the inclusion of Ra’am one hopes this government will be able to begin the introspection and healing that is required for Israeli society to bounce back. Mansour Abbas’s speech in Arabic to the Knesset was a token of the inclusivity of this government. That is why this should be a “government of hope” and not just a “government of change”.

What has been completely missing in the action-packed month, has been the relative silence of the PLO and its leader, who has now become the “other” Abbas. It was disappointing to see a leader of Abu Mazen’s stature, maintain his silence, not call for peace or reach out to the Israeli side and the international community to protect his own during the darkest days of the conflict. Weeks before the conflict, with Palestinian elections impending, Fatah and Hamas were busy hammering out an uncomfortable compromise on power-sharing to minimise any losses to the Barghouti and Dahlan factions. After the conflict, Israeli democracy has risen again however there is no mention of elections in the West Bank and Gaza. Both Hamas and Fatah would have faced humiliation at the ballot box, with the rise of the incarcerated Marwan Barghouti to the office of the President. Now Hamas is seen as the defender of Jerusalem and has seen public opinion soar in its support. Hamas claims to have won the war, the Palestinian people have lost, as they will continue to have no elections, corrupt leaders, no health care, high unemployment, and no hope for a future for their children. The Israeli people have lost, because they will continue to send their children to war, still in 2021, be afraid of being attacked by their neighbours and spend a lot of financial, emotional and social capital to keep their borders safe from their neighbours. Palestinian democracy has lost and with that you could start writing the requiem of the two-state solution.

This conflict was also different because this was the first time there was a social media onslaught which was probably more brutal than the barrage of missiles. A lot of celebrities worldwide supported Hamas with the excuse of defending the Palestinian cause while directly attacking Israel and Zionism. Gigi and Bella Hadid, famous daughters of a Palestinian businessman, lead the march on Instagram. I especially remember the lists they posted of what Israel must do or the US must do or what the UN and the international community must do to protect the Palestinians. Not once did I see even a small list from anyone of what the Palestinian leaders must do. Not once did I see a list that said, the Palestinian leaders must first hold an election and then demand that the international community organise peace talks. Nothing on ending corruption or saying no to terror either. While Hamas may have lost the missile battle, its alliance definitely won the social media war. After this truce, there is no introspection from the Palestinian end, at home or abroad, no demand for a vote or change. Palestinians must realise that they must first put their home in order as change always begins at home. Violence begets more violence.

Like Israeli political parties were, after two years of failed attempts, able to put together an alliance to achieve a functional government, the Palestinians from West Bank and Gaza need to vote for parties that will give them a government that does not care about the resistance and violence, but cares about them and their children. The PNA needs to be an inclusive authority that represents Palestinian society with a focus of eliminating the rampant corruption that is endemic in the West Bank and Gaza, engaging with Israel and the global community to first improve the quality of life of Palestinians and second achieve a two-state solution. Both can be done simultaneously.

It is time to give up arms. Time and again armed resistance has always proved futile. This has been tried and tested through the colonial era globally. It was a “naked fakir”, with his credo of truth and non-violence which eventually brought down the British empire and got India (and Pakistan) its independence, not bombs and rockets. Following in his footsteps, it was Nelson Mandela who renounced violence and successfully abolished apartheid in South Africa. Whether you look at Israel as a “colonial occupier” or as an “apartheid government” from the Palestinian propaganda perspective, you have clear examples of why jihad, Iranian missiles and extremism isn’t the solution to Palestinian statehood. So, to all those who justify Hamas’s violence as “resistance” and those who remain silent not condemning it, instead of heckling Israel, Zionism and justifying hate-you needed a wanted ad with the title “Looking for a Palestinian Gandhi”. The ad would write itself and the candidate would have the full support of Israel’s newest and strongest ally, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, who eventually had to step in through his proxy, Egypt, to achieve a tense ceasefire.

Prime Minister Bennet had one miracle last week and hopefully is able to find the right formula to lobby for an election in Palestine and use the support of the UAE and Saudi Arabia to push for a deal that brings real peace to the middle east. Of course, the Palestinian’s need their own miracle, their own Gandhi. The faster they realise that armed Islamic jihad went out of fashion in the ’70s and failed a long time ago, the easier it will be to build a constructive society. The Palestinians need to demand elections, show up in large numbers and convince their leaders that the time is now. Only a government with an electoral mandate can negotiate with Israel and the international community. It’s time for Abu Mazen to gracefully retire and make room for the younger generation.

Years ago, it seemed as if they had switched off the light at the end of the tunnel. The swearing-in of Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid has brought in a ray of hope. We hope they are able to switch the lights back on.

About the Author
Vas is a political researcher, consultant and entrepreneur who has worked in Europe, Middle East and Africa for two decades. He has had the privilege to interact with leaders, decision makers and work closely with people from all walks of life, all over the middle east.
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