Wanted - leaders who tell it like it is

In 1995, one of the independent candidates for the Palestinian parliamentary elections from El-Bireh ran on an interesting platform. The slogan of the former El-Bireh mayor, deported by Israel in the 1970s, said: "We have no other homeland." The message was clear: Whether one was for or against the Oslo peace process (which at the time was a major issue), one needed to deal first with the plight of regular citizens. Abdel Jawwad Saleh, a vocal member of the first Palestinian Legislative Council, didn't run in the past elections. I recall his slogan these days because Palestinians, especially those in leadership position, have a memory lapse. Fatah supporters are still not willing to recognize that they lost the elections; and Hamas seems to forget that winning the elections is the easy part, but ruling and providing for those who elect you is a completely different issue. Fatah and Hamas spokesmen have been trying to divert the attention of their people by talking about a soon to be agreed on national unity government, or an almost completed prisoner exchange. While there might be some truth to these statements, it is clear that neither a unity government nor a prisoner exchange will do much to resolve some of the problems that face Palestinians today. For these courageous and realistic leaders are needed, ones who can see both the forest and the trees and are prepared to work tirelessly for the welfare of their people. THE RECENT Israel-Hizbullah war on Lebanon has shown a quality of leadership that has been missing in the Arab world. Lebanese leaders of all walks, among them, Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah, have proven that a leader can be honest, courageous and mindful of the needs of his people. Instead of thinking about how they can duplicate the military feats of the Lebanese, Palestinian leaders of all factions should try to emulate their leadership qualities. Many say that honesty and leadership are somehow incompatible. We certainly have had our share of dishonest leaders who incessantly tell us that Palestine will be free, the refugees returned and we will have a state with Jerusalem as its capital; or that Israel is just about to capitulate - if they carry out one more suicide bombing, or shoot another homemade Kassam rocket. They promise, with no worry about delivering. Delivering on a promise to a people requires understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, having an accurate awareness of Arab and international balance of forces, and working tirelessly to preserve national unity, the most basic of all ingredients for success. Once such a Palestinian leader can honestly evaluate where we stand and what the possibility of success is, leadership will require courage to plan properly and carry out the plan successfully. Courage, as Nasrallah has shown, also includes admitting that the results of your actions and the other side's reaction were not as anticipated. A leader of a people should never forget the people he is leading. We can't have leaders who think of success at all costs, including that exacted from his people. Naturally, any struggle requires sacrifices, and as we saw in Lebanon Hizbullah leaders understood this and saw members of their own families sacrificed for the larger good. But as in Lebanon, if you ask people to sacrifice you have to be ready to address their needs when this battle is over. Leadership is not simply about speaking eloquently on television, wearing nice suits or preaching in a crowded mosque. True leaders need the honesty to understand where they stand, the courage to tell their people the truth, and to constantly remember that leadership is about serving the people. While Abdel Jawwad Saleh's assessment about the only homeland is correct, we, the people are not stuck with a single leader or leading group. The search will go on for an honest, courageous leader who will remember to provide for his people's basic needs and aspirations. The writer is founder and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Kuds University in Ramallah.