The Palestinian election opportunity

UNRWA DOES not help Palestinians. Quite the opposite. It perpetuates the conflict by instilling a mentality of victimhood.

PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the death of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the death of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” These prophetic words were uttered by the late, great Israeli diplomatic legend Abba Eban in 1973. He spoke them in the context of repeated Arab and Palestinian refusal to try to achieve peace with Israel. Yet these words ring just as true today in the context of Palestinian leadership constantly refusing to better the lives of their own citizens.
In early November, a senior Palestinian Authority official announced that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would soon issue a presidential decree to hold elections in February. This came roughly one month after Abbas declared at the UN General Assembly his intention to call for an election.
If the pledge comes to fruition, it would be the Palestinians’ first parliamentary election since 2006, and the first presidential election since 2005. The scarcity of elections is primarily due to the desire of both Abbas and Hamas to maintain ironclad control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively, as well as the deep schism between the two sides since Hamas violently ousted Abbas’s Fatah Party from Gaza in 2007. Palestinians would do well to demand that their leaders go through with the proposed election. After all, they are in desperate need of systemic policy reform.
First, Palestinians must demand that their leadership stop paying terrorists to kill Jews. This is important. According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), the PA allocated around NIS 550 million for stipends to terrorists in 2017, distributed among tens of thousands of Palestinians. The salaries ranged from NIS 1,400-NIS 12,000 per month. Conversely, the PA spent only NIS 605 million on financial assistance for approximately 118,000 needy Palestinian families, equaling a far lower NIS 750- NIS 1,800 per quarter. Of the NIS 605 million, only NIS 90 million was contributed by the PA (the rest was funded by the international community). In other words, the PA spent six times more paying terrorists than it did to its own needy.
Second, Palestinians must insist on a drastic overhaul of their educational system. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a report criticizing the Palestinian school system, a rarity for the UN. The committee expressed concern that hate speech found in Palestinian textbooks and school curricula would incite violence. Fact check: true.
The Palestinian leadership fosters a culture of hate and violence which brainwashes its citizens into believing that armed struggle is the only solution to the conflict with Israel. Too many innocent Israelis and Palestinians have died because of this kind of twisted thinking.
Somewhat related to the education problem is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The agency was established by the UN after Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 to deal with Palestinian refugees. Long overdue for dismantling, UNRWA is a cesspool of violence and bigotry. Its school and facilities have been used as Hamas weapons-storing facilities, they have celebrated stabbing Jews, disseminated antisemitic content, and employed terrorist operatives.
UNRWA DOES not help Palestinians. Quite the opposite. It perpetuates the conflict by instilling a mentality of victimhood. Whereas all other refugees lose their refugee status once they gain citizenship elsewhere, Palestinians and their descendants inherit refugee status indefinitely, whether they have resettled or not. This policy has caused the Palestinian refugee population to grow from 700,000 in 1948 to a projected 6.4 million by 2020.
By contrast, Israel is an example of how a refugee crisis can be properly solved. During the 20th century, roughly 850,000 Jews were forced out of Arab countries and Iran. More than 570,000 of these refugees were absorbed into Israel, and their descendants currently make up the majority of Israel’s Jewish population. The Palestinians must call on their leadership to free them from the endless cycle of victimhood UNRWA imposes upon them, take responsibility for their own future, and reject this counterproductive organization.
Last, Palestinians must demand that their leadership denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel. Contrary to popular belief, BDS has little impact on the Israeli economy, according to Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. Likewise, a study conducted by the consulting company Financial Immunities revealed that the cumulative proportion of economic damage by BDS to the Israeli economy between 2010 and 2017 was 0.004%.
Ironically, it seems that a boycott of Israel would be more harmful to the Palestinian economy than to Israel’s. This is due to the trade-flow asymmetry between the two, which makes the Palestinian economy heavily dependent on Israel’s economic prosperity. Additionally, Palestinians working in Israel earn double what they earn in the PA, and triple what they earn in Gaza, according to another PMW report published in 2016. A boycott of Israel would devastate the Palestinian economy, and any attempt to do so should be swiftly condemned.
A September 2019 poll by The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 72% of Palestinians desire both presidential and parliamentary elections. It also found that most Palestinians perceive the PA and Hamas to be institutions plagued by rampant corruption.
Their perception is correct. The Palestinian leaders are consumed by hate and have rotted their institutions to the core. They continue to lead their citizens down a path of suffering. Now the Palestinians may have a historic opportunity on their hands to change all that. True leadership must come forth and lead the Palestinians out of their self-imposed pit of despair. It may be the last chance they get for years to come.
The writer is the Israel campus coordinator for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and a former intern for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s Mission to the UN in New York.