It is not clear what the chief of Palestinian intelligence, Majid Faraj, had in mind when he gave an interview to the United States-based website Defence News. If the aim was to improve his chances of succeeding Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, it was clearly a misstep. However, if he was simply protecting his boss, he will be remembered as the soldier who attempted to take a bullet for his general.
Not many people read the 3,000-word article that also featured chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. In the piece, Faraj revealed the extent of the Palestinian security cooperation with Israel. He boasted that the security apparatus under his direction had prevented some 200 attempted violent acts against Israelis, and arrested more than 100 Palestinians who had intended to carry out violent resistant acts.
The storm that followed – with some attacking him as a traitor – forced Fatah cadres and eventually President Abbas himself to come to the rescue of the usually quiet Faraj.
Publicly talking about security cooperation at a time of almost daily Palestinian deaths by summary execution might be music to the ears of Israelis and the Americans, but it doesn’t bode well for local sentiments.
In his defence of Faraj, President Abbas said that the intelligence chief carried out orders and that security cooperation was still ongoing, but hinted that this coordination would not go on for a long time.
It is expected that the cooperation will be seriously revisited following the expected meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the forthcoming international summit in Paris on radicalisation.
These political nuances, however, don’t answer the simple question of why a security intelligence chief – who has been in charge for years – breaks his silence with such controversial statements.
Analysts and pundits have already discussed various Palestinian leaders who might be considered to replace Abbas. The Palestinian leader has refused to hand-pick his successor and has insisted that it should be done through a democratic process with the Palestinian public making the decision, not him.
While Abbas’ position is lamentable, many of the would-be successors believe that it is more important to win the approval of the international community and, indirectly, Israel rather than that of the Palestinian public. Observers often compare the support of different countries in the region and beyond for the potential successors. Some even evaluate the support that the new Palestinian leader would get from Israel.
There is no doubt that whoever is given the task of leading the Palestinian people must have a variety of credentials, and will need to be on good terms with various regional and international players. But any leader must have the genuine and strong support of the people they represent. Without this as a starting point, all the other credentials are void.
The debacle that has come upon the Palestinian intelligence chief should be a lesson to all. The basics of the leadership succession begin and end with an understanding and empathy with your own people and their national aspirations. Tactics and nuances aimed at widening international support should be given a back seat, and the priority should be being in touch with your own people and their national ambitions.
The lesson that we hope Majid Faraj learned from his one-off interaction with the media is that it is futile for analysts and pundits – as well as many within the leadership circles – to pick a leader. Leaders are not chosen through some kind of foreign approval, through a positive media blitz or a warm write-up.
When it comes to the issue of succession, the formula for success is clear: There are no Palestinians on this planet who can please their own people and their people’s adversaries – so it is best always to side with your people.
Faraj’s fingers were burned as he attempted to play in a field that he is totally unfamiliar with. It is important that he and those with a similar role learn this lesson, and keep their ears as close as possible to the suffering of their own people.
Once they do that honestly and genuinely, all other issues will find their way to resolution.