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The art of making a leader: Fayyad as a model

January 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [Issam Rimawi/Apaimages]

Whenever the topic of the Palestinian Authority arises, few people talk about the institution itself, or the PLO or its President. The main topic for discussion is Salam Fayyad and his “genius” attempt to build the institutions of state while under Israeli occupation but with a view to ending that servile status. Looking at him is a “glass half-full” scenario; looking at the feasibility of the project, it’s “glass half-empty” time.

The West has a long history of bringing to power people unknown to the general public. It is not only possible but also self-evident that yesterday’s playboy can be turned almost miraculously into today’s president. And all with free elections and a majority of the votes cast in his favour. The cradles of democracy where such miracles have taken place now export their skills to the third world in order to create a generation of leaders who fit the universal template for democratic leadership.

Once the spotlight is on someone, we hear nothing but praise and flattery; he appears on the covers of Time and Newsweek, and on Oprah’s show, and is voted the “Man most likely…”, or the “Man Most Influential…” Then he turns into a “strong figure” and a “mountain not shaken by the wind”. Such is the case with Salam Fayyad, who arrived in the Palestinian national movement not from the grassroots but parachuted in from above by the grace and patronage of international bankers and despite his relative failure in the last free and fair Palestinian elections.

Western “king-makers” are aware that propping-up someone from outside is, on its own, insufficient, especially for leaders in long-term conflict zones, where internal support is essential. A degree of chemistry between the leader and the people helps, so that the latter can link their long-term financial security and development to the former. When the salary at the end of the month is linked in your mind to the political success and survival of the leader, support is more likely to be given.

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In essence, there is nothing wrong with this; all politicians seek to make themselves indispensible. We must develop the image of the “popular leader”, the man of the people who cuts endless ribbons, lays countless foundation stones and develops his links with the folk-history and culture of “his” people, even down to performing the traditional “dabke” (folk dance). Such a man is of the people and close to their pulse and he is preparing them to accept the unpopular political decisions that are inevitable.

If necessary, the new leader will be highlighted as being in the forefront of resistance to the occupation; Western ambassadors and other leaders will sit in the front row of conference after conference in support of resistance on condition that one resolution, and one alone, is passed: “their” man must follow the resistance model that is consistent with “security coordination” and the recommendations of US General Keith Dayton, the Quartet and “anti-terrorism” laws. In short, Israel’s security is the priority, not the security of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation.

Today, the Palestinian national movement stands confused in the light of the phenomenon that is the new leadership of Dr. Salam Fayyad. The man is everywhere and all factions, without exception, have issued statements renouncing, condemning and denouncing his political stances. There is a disturbing grey area between the efforts to build state institutions while under Israeli occupation and the suspicious economic peace strategy of Benjamin Netanyahu. Fayyad’s near-total control over decision-making, security and money supply in the Palestinian political and economic system provokes a lot of silent anger.

On the other hand, no viable alternative or way out of the difficult situation facing Palestinians is waiting in the wings. Nobody, either individuals or factions, has such a clear vision as Salam Fayyad. There are no attempts to unseat him and no one has the charisma to challenge him. The generation of charismatic leaders has gone and we are left with third-rate and corrupt officers and leaders. Whatever else he may be, Fayyad is not at the bottom of the menu; he may well be the last to have entered the arena, but he is doing much more than those who preceded him.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.