Wanted: Moderate Palestinian leadership

There are moments in history when courageous leadership is required to turn the tide of history.

PEOPLE MARCH as they hold a large Palestinian flag in Ramallah in October (photo credit: REUTERS)
PEOPLE MARCH as they hold a large Palestinian flag in Ramallah in October
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘The Jews are desecrating Al Aksa.” This claim was made in English, by an official Fatah spokesman, as the two of us were interviewed in the studio of an international television station. I asked him how he could use the term “desecrating” to describe Jews who were simply walking on the Temple Mount. He replied: “They desecrate it by drinking alcohol up there.”
The average viewer around the world, knowing little about the facts, may have heard this claim and then pictured Jews going onto the Temple Mount and wildly drinking alcohol in order to desecrate the mosque and Islam. Had that actually occurred, one could believe the Muslim world justified in rising up to protect the purity of their holy site.
I challenged the Fatah spokesman about this outright falsehood, and also pointed out the hypocrisy of the claim given the fact that Arab children are regularly seen paying soccer at this sacred site. He acknowledged that Arabs play soccer there and then explained his original statement: “I don’t mean that they are going up and drinking alcohol in a wild manner. They do it as part of their religious rituals.”
Once again, I pointed out that this is an absurd claim because the Wakf forbids Jews from doing anything other than walking on the Temple Mount.
They may not even utter a prayer. Therefore, how can they be performing any Jewish rituals? The sad part of this story is that this spokesman happens to be among the more moderate Palestinian leaders. How can we possibly move forward with trying to resolve this conflict and Israel separating safely and securely from the Palestinians if their most moderate leaders incite the street with falsehoods? Let me be very clear: Israel does have its fair share of extremists. Some of them are even government ministers. They add fuel to the fire, incite some of our youth to acts of desecration and violence and cause grave damage to Israel in the process. But we also have a loud moderate voice with significant representation in the government which regularly denounces these extremists and rejects their actions and approach. Where is that brave voice on the Palestinian side? Where are the moderate Palestinian leaders who not only reject and denounce the extremists but also proactively speak in a moderate, compromising voice with an eye toward resolving the conflict? There are moments in history when courageous leadership is required to turn the tide of history.
Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela went against the tide and against many of their own supporters to bring an end to massive conflicts and prevent further escalations. Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat did the same in a first, courageous step toward resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict.
I believe that we have reached a pivotal moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Israeli Arab leaders such as Mujahed Awawdeh, head of the regional council of Kafr Kana, have stood up in recent days and condemned the violence, called for an end to it, and declared their belief in tolerance, mutual respect and the ability for Jews and Arabs to live side by side in peace and tranquility. Mainstream Israeli leaders have done the same. That protocol should create a basis for quieting the current wave of violence and preventing further escalations and tragedies.
However, one critical piece of the puzzle is missing.
We need to see moderate and courageous Palestinian leadership which not only ceases to incite and spread libels such as the myth regarding the “desecration of al Aksa,” but also denounces the extremists and proactively renounces violence.
I hope, for the sake of all of us living in this volatile region – Arab and Jew alike – that such visionary and courageous Palestinian leaders will emerge. I also hope that the international community will understand that the most important step that it can take at this time would be to use every vehicle at its disposal to encourage and empower the emergence of moderate Palestinian leadership.
The author is a rabbi and an MK for Yesh Atid.