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Op-Ed: Who Will Succeed Abbas? PA TV Station Holds a Contest

Abbas seems to have no intentions of going home, but plenty of PA Arabs would like him to.
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 1:58 AM


A TV show - "The President" - now being aired on Maan TV - a popular Palestinian Arab radio station based in Bethlehem - presents an opportunity for the election-starved Palestinian Arabs to have their say on what they would do on a variety of subjects if they were elected as the "President of Palestine".

Since elections to appoint any leader were last held in 2005 - this show offers the ordinary man in the street the only opportunity to have his say on how to resolve the conflict between Arabs and Jews that has been ongoing and unresolved for the last 95 years.

On the Jewish side there are opinions and policies galore for ending that conflict that translate into the creation of many political parties vying for power to implement such policies at least once every four years.

There appears to be no popular political movement on the Arab side calling for fresh elections to be held to test the support enjoyed by Mahmoud Abbas - the current unelected and unconstitutional PA Chairman since his term expired in 2009

Indeed there appear to be no dissenting voices criticising policies adopted since 1967 by the PLO - that Abbas also now heads - rejecting any form of territorial compromise with Israel in the territories occupied by Jordan between 1948-1967 until captured by Israel in the Six Day War.

Sovereignty in these areas has remained unallocated since Great Britain handed its internationally recognised control of these territories back to the United Nations in 1948 - terminating its role as Mandatory under the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine unanimously vested in it by the League in 1922.

Y Net reports that 1200 young Palestinian Arabs aged 20-35 applied to go on "The President" and the number of contestants has now been cut to 15.

The contestants have to face a panel of politicians, professionals and businessmen who, together with the audience, vote the contestants on and off from the show.

The winner will travel the world as a mock Palestinian Arab ambassador and perhaps receive a car as well.

With negotiations between Israel and the PLO stalled for the last two years because of Abbas's refusal to sit down with Israel without preconditions - some kind of circuit breaker is certainly required.

Judges on the show include Palestinian Arab spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi, Arab member of the Israeli parliament Ahmed Tibi and Khouloud Idabis a former Palestinian Authority Cabinet Minister.

Idabis explained the following rationale for the show:

"We are building a new generation of politicians. They are gaining skills from practice,"

The contestants are publicly identified, appear undisguised and their voices are not distorted to avoid recognition.

Hussein al-Deik, 31, said he would oppose the type of violence espoused by Palestinian Arabs in the last decade when they carried out hundreds of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians. He said he would promote peaceful demonstrations against Israel's occupation of the 'West Bank' and even oppose stone throwing at Israeli soldiers and settlers – a common Palestinian Arab practice.

Other candidates echoed his support for non-violence - a contrast to wider Palestinian Authority society where support for "armed struggle" remains a common sentiment.

The show's producer -Seema Rasool - said that if there are no elections in practice, at least there should be on TV.

"We wanted to create a new spin on reality TV – reality TV with a purpose. For decades, Palestine has only had two presidents, Abu Amar (Yasser Arafat) and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), thus we hope this show drives the Palestinian people to truly have a democratic state. This show in itself models democracy in practice."

The show is reportedly funded by an American organization called Search for Common Ground.

Raed Othman, Maan's director, reportedly told Y News that the show is popular because it has tapped into the larger sense of civic involvement in politics following the upheavals taking place across the Arab world. He said entertainment shows often backfire, since viewers dealing with hardships do not want to be merely entertained.

"We found this show fits our conditions. We need elections, and there are no elections. We need an Arab Spring, and the show is our spring."

Waad Fararieh - one of the three women remaining on the show added:

"We don't see President Abbas in town. He spends most of his time flying when we really need his presence here. If I become a president, I will focus on the economy. Our economy is bad, and there are no real efforts to revive it."

Three of the finalists are reportedly from Gaza, participating by videoconference.

Sabri Saydam - an adviser to Abbas and a jury member for some of the episodes - commented

"President Abbas is aware of the show, and he was happy, because he is interested in seeing new faces, youthful faces, in the political arena."

Hopefully, the eventual winner will be asked the following three questions:

  1. Are you prepared to sit down and negotiate with Israel without preconditions?

  2. Are you prepared to pledge that elections for President will be held at least once very four years?

  3. Are you prepared to recognise Israel as the Jewish National Home?

If the winner answers "yes" to all three questions - maybe "The President" could positively contribute towards ending the current impasse in resuming negotiations.

Any TV show that turns unreality into reality is indeed money well spent.