Day: March 8, 2017
The Middle East Institute hosted a conversation Friday, March 3 on the future of Palestinian leadership and the challenges Palestine faces in developing its next generation of leaders. Moderated by Barbara Plett Usher, BBC correspondent, the panel included Omar Shaban, Director at PalThink for Strategic Studies, Yousef Munayyer, MEI Scholar, Gabriel Mitchell, US Representative at The Mitvim Institute, and Sarah Yerkes, nonresident fellow at Brookings.
The panelists discussed the future of Palestine post-Abbas. Shaban saw several challenges to future governance, most notably the age gap between the Palestinian leadership and the population—an average age of 85 as compared to 25. There is no clear way for youth to establish a political party, but the only way to bridge this gap is through elections. The disconnect between the government and the people is not confined to age either. Shaban noted that much of the current Palestinian leadership resides outside the territories and lacks the professionalism to meet the political ambitions of Palestinians.
Palestinian youth frustration largely stems from feeling overlooked in the political dialogue concerning their country and their future. Munayyer asserted that calling the issue the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” gives the illusion of false symmetry, when in reality Palestinians are not represented by a government. Nor do they have institutions to develop political representation for themselves. Without functioning institutions, it is difficult for leadership to gain legitimacy or reach out to the broadest spectrum of stakeholders. This becomes a greater issue hindering peace as public opinion does not capture the full array of Palestinian voices and ignores perspectives from a broad section of Palestinian society. According to Munayyer, part of the problem comes from the international community’s willingness to meet Israel where they are as a nation while shaping a Palestinian partner that suits international purposes and Israeli demands.
Outside actors, especially the United States and Israel, play a big role not only in the regional political context but also in internal Palestinian affairs and the future of government and elections within the territories. Presenting the Israeli viewpoint, Mitchell discussed Palestine’s future from three perspectives—the current government, the security establishment, and the Israeli opposition. The current government endorses a smooth transfer of power after Abbas and wants to influence the process while not appearing to manipulate it. They hope to get the international community involved as intermediaries. The Israeli security establishment hopes to develop a clear path to succession and continue its security cooperation with whoever replaces Abbas. The Israeli opposition does not have a clear idea of who should succeed Abbas and feels frustrated and/or indifferent over the idea of a two-state solution.
Speaking from the perspective of American foreign policy, Yerkes said that while the US is planning for succession because of Abbas’ age, America will pay little attention to Palestinian internal affairs due to its lack of influence or interest in the outcome. What the United States will want in Palestine is a partner for peace that helps combat and condemn incitement, supports economic development, and takes steps towards political reform and democracy. But the Trump administration may well opt for absentee-ism and allow Netanyahu to operate however he chooses.