An Open Letter to Yasser Arafat

President Arafat,

I have no idea whether this letter will reach you, or, like many before it, will be pulled from the presses due to the current political timing. Moreover, in directly addressing Yasser Arafat there is a temptation and a risk. The temptation is to know you are directly addressing the right address even if your message involves stern criticism and disturbing frankness. The risk and fear stem from the way some ignorant advisers may interpret this letter, i.e. if it is not mere naive hypocrisy then it is a declaration of a fierce war against you, a declaration of disloyalty. Given that you thrive on being embroiled in every minute detail of your work, I believe that objectively weighing between the two approaches, he who takes the direct route and tells you the facts, no matter how disturbing, will prevail in affecting your actions.

Who glorifies your negative approach to our institutions, whether on the political front, such as FATAH and the PLO, or the Authority front, such as the Palestinian Legislative Council or the government bodies? Let me assure you, our institutions are living the darkest days of their history. During the climax of the revolution the absence of coordination between these institutions was never justified. Today, during the era of the Authority and while on the blistering road to statehood, this absence is even more unacceptable.

Mr. President, you accepted Oslo’s Gaza-Jericho first idea, not because it liberated two of our beloved cities, but rather because it was a practical approach to an experiment in statehood. It was a state that would begin with a limited geographic area and an even more limited political space. As we successfully addressed the harsh conditions that were applied to us, this state would grow in geographical as well as political space. Acceptance in approaching the building of our state in this way involved an awareness that there were those Arab, Palestinian and Israeli factions who intended for the entire experiment to fail. Furthermore, you were fully aware that those wishing for the failure of this project had strong arguments in their favor and tools to disrupt and destroy the process.

From the outset of our internal political dispute and under the pretext of the challenge to negotiate with the Israelis, we intentionally ignored the development of one of our strongest weapons: the creation of serious institutions with the support of the international community and with the ability to enlist the support of our own people in order to replace the repressive institutions of the occupation.

What did we achieve in the Palestinian Legislative Council? What did we achieve with regard to the rule of law? What did we achieve in monetary issues? What did we achieve in administrative affairs? Where are our achievements in the sphere of statehood? I speak in the plural because I believe that the responsibility for failure is a collective one, although it is true that you hold the greater part of this responsibility due to your position, your authority and the resources at your disposal.

What did we do with the institutions that comprise the PLO, the body that holds the international legitimacy that made Oslo possible? What did we do with FATAH – its conferences, its regional bodies, its committees and its offices? I’m convinced that if we did anything substantial it was not aimed at developing these institutions and keeping them active, but rather toward stripping them of there role, undermining their capacities, and wiping out their character and tradition. Yes, we did all this. And if a research group studied the reasons behind this self-criticism they would find one source: our inability to understand the multi-faceted project of statehood. We have been unable to realize this project, with its goal of removing the threats against us and creating opportunities for real security!

Some attempt to excuse our actions throughout the Oslo experience by saying that what we did is to be expected from a revolutionary movement transforming itself into a proper governing body. I do not believe this explanation grasps the underlying practices of the Authority. We entered the conciliation process fully knowing what we would accept and what responsibilities were asked of us in return. Before we entered the Oslo experiment we were not a group of armed militias roaming the mountains and jungles, but rather activists in political parties and political institutions. Weren’t we boasting that we had more embassies and representative offices in the world than even Israel? Weren’t we boasting that we had more democracy and pluralism than many of our friends who have stable states and societies?

We have neglected the central responsibility that attached to our sudden transformation from a revolutionary movement’s culture, awareness and institutions into this new reality: the challenge to swim with the Palestinian masses, particularly after spending so many years far from our home shores.

Before arriving in Palestine, the exiled Palestinian leadership was everywhere, except in the homeland. The leadership knew only that the homeland was a fountain of unlimited blood and sacrifice. True insight about our own people cannot be tapped from exile or remotely. Actually living amongst the masses is the only way to really understand them.

Before our assimilation, the leader and followers learned of Palestine by way of colorful pictures, each choosing the images that fit their needs. The leader needed a picture that plainly depicted a consensus around his leadership and all that he stood for. The followers envisioned this remote leadership to be an extraordinary, intelligent and principled group of revolutionaries that fit the snapshot of other triumphant national liberation movements. When these two actually met, the naivety of both assumptions began to unravel. The leadership turned out to be only human, comprising both those that sacrificed and nobly struggled for independence as well as others, of questionable character, who failed to meet the high expectations of Palestinians in the homeland. The followers and the masses in general had proved that they are an extraordinarily steadfast people, but also people with normal every day needs, requirements and interests.

After returning home, we failed, Mr. President, to manage the great historic process before us. We failed to establish and enforce a rule of law that would organize the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and our people in order for our Authority to be legitimate and earn credibility from the masses.

Mr. President, we dealt with the challenge that we took upon ourselves with the mindset of distributing the spoils rather than in the spirit of engaging all available resources in order to overcome the difficult situation we faced. We did not form a single committee to review the qualifications of those we entrusted with senior or staff positions. We never took into consideration in the formation of our government the issue of professionalism or ethics. We reverted to a tribal mindset. We even conveniently dropped the mature political considerations that were present in many of the PLO institutions throughout the long pre-Oslo years. Since the early days of the Authority, many of us asked many questions about several ministers that dealt with their ministries as if they were dealing with their own private homes. We ignored that this Ministry was for Hebronites, the other for those from Nablus, and yet another for Jerusalemites. We did absolutely nothing when we learned that a senior employee remained employed even after he left to Amman or that an old-time colleague in struggle demanded to be appointed as a Minister before returning home (for the sake of which he could have been a martyr, as he said).

I don’t need to remind you Mr. President of the story of the recruitment lists that we all blindly accepted as a basis for capacity building, which in reality turned our entire people into managers, leaving not a single government job holding its prestige and legitimacy.

As we proceeded this way year after year, our friends, even before our enemies, registered and documented our every move. Their interest was not necessarily motivated by wanting to see a 21st century state be properly built in one of the most dangerous places in the world (Middle East), but rather to monitor where the millions that they pledged to this project were being spent!

We were simple-minded not to expect that one day a drought would come upon us and as days go by would increase, not decrease, until we paid a price for all that we did. We did not care Mr. President; we took comfort in your naive slogans. We were blinded by your assurances that the world needed us to sign on the dotted line and that aside from that we could act as we wished, since who would dare constrain us when we held the global and regional key to peace and stability!?

Yes, our powerful adversaries discovered a way to wrest that magic key that was in our hands. This discovery was simply, “Let’s take it from them.” Let’s be frank, there is more than a grand scale conspiracy that splits the world in two, those that are against us and those that are unable to assist us. Why are there those who can’t assist us? Do a people with a just and legitimate cause have the right to act as they please, unrestrained by norms? Does the justice of our cause justify this mess in our own house? You are the greatest critic of this mess even though you are accused of also being its greatest supporter!

Mr. President, we will continue to fall backwards as long as we face all of the destruction, loss of life and chaos that has been brought upon us with a leadership that can only boast of having its steadfastness, catastrophe after catastrophe, documented in history.

Didn’t we dance to the failure of Camp David? Didn’t we deface pictures of President Bill Clinton who courageously put on the table the proposal for a Palestinian State with minor modifications? Aren’t we doing just that, dancing in the face of a grand failure? Yes. But were we honest in what we did? No. We were not, because today, after two years of bloodshed, we call for exactly what we refused, only after we became sure it was impossible to achieve!

How many times did we accept, then reject, then accept? And always we would refuse to calculate the consequences of acceptance or the rejection. How many times was there something required of us, something we had the ability to do, but we did nothing? Then when solutions were no longer available we would roam the globe in the hope of getting it presented again, only to learn that between our rejection and acceptance the world had distanced itself from us altogether or introduced additional conditions that we could not consider fulfilling.

Mr. President,

What is to be done now?

Now, meaning that Israeli tanks are in full control of the West Bank and surround Gaza as well.

Now, meaning that the opportunity to open political files will only be in the context of receiving some minor relief, while at the same time Ministers are only able to travel by way of ambulances!

Now, meaning that we stand a huge step back from the point we left with Bill Clinton at Camp David. We are now asked to accept Gaza First as a security test, a test that if passed, would end in lifting curfew in Bethlehem.

Now, meaning that every Palestinian militia on the streets acts without any central command and controls and defines the battle as they see fit.

Now, and after all of this has come to pass, what is to be done?

Surely, the delegations you are sending to Washington are not in a position to affect an American-Israeli alliance that is stronger than ever, or an America that is readying the world for a strike against Iraq, this at a time when Rumsfield is speaking about the occupied West Bank and Gaza in a language that not even Sharon has dared to use. Surely, Solana’s calls and Mourtinos’ visits are no longer a help and the efforts of the EU to open channels with our freedom fighters to attempt a cease fire no longer matter!

What will help first is to face and accept that what has occurred is a failure on a grand scale. Admission of this failure, embarrassing as it is, will not mean the end of the world or the burying of our cause. Just the opposite. It would be a bold step in the process of regrouping and learning from our mistakes and building upon the resources of our earlier success.

Mr. President, what stops us from leading a serious and frank discussion with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all of the Palestinian political factions? What stops us from asking for an open-ended cooling off period to allow for the mending of our internal Palestinian wounds and for a collective restructuring of our cracked Palestinian house and our rusted political alliances? Aren’t the brave Palestinian people deserving of a period of rest and time to take a breath to see where all of this is leading us? Even if Sharon provokes us, isn’t it in our benefit to corner him with quiet? Don’t we need to rebuild confidence with the third party that we lost due to our continued miscalculations?

Then, after this dialogue, which offers so many opportunities for success, what stops us from enacting the internal reforms program proposed by the Palestinian Legislative Council? By the way, this program is the most realistic yet to move us one step closer to serious statehood and thus deserves our consideration, despite the conditions that we face.


What stops us from opening an urgent workshop to discuss reforms in our legal system, especially since we passed legislation making the judiciary branch of government independent on one day and violated the legislation on the very next!?


What stops us from ending the administrative chaos in the government, especially since the army of government employees now exceeds 130,000, three-quarters of whom have no idea of their job!

Sharon’s tanks do not prohibit us from organizing our internal affairs, because you still, Mr. President, issue orders, enjoy legitimacy and have power to grant it, even without a comprehensive plan of action.

We have yet to do what is required of us in our current condition. We take comfort, Mr. President, in designing excuses for inaction. Do we think it will be easier if we allow Sharon’s tanks to cover all our hidden sins with their sins?

Mr. President,

We committed serious mistakes against our people, our Authority, and our dream of statehood. To make up for these mistakes, we must confess to our failure first, and then take immediate action. Our people are noble and deserve from us the commitment to think with them and for their benefit. We cannot let our people’s destiny be set free to chance, a chance that, under a new world order, may take yet another eternal struggle without opening a door of hope.

Nabil Amro is the former Palestinian National Authority’s Minister of Parliamentarian Affairs and resigned from the Palestinian cabinet in April 2002. He remains an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.