December 11, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8405

Palestinian Former Minister: We Have State Institutions And Symbols, But We Have Failed To Consolidate A Real State, Anchored In Democracy And Rule Of Law, Which Benefits The Citizens

December 11, 2019
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 8405

In his October 27, 2019 column in the daily Al-Quds, Ziad Abu Zayyad, formerly the Palestinian Authority (PA) minister of Jerusalem affairs, slammed the PA for failing to establish a state anchored in democracy and the rule of law which serves the citizens and meets their needs. The PA, he stated, has so far built the state "from the top down," i.e., focused on its outward characteristics, such as a flag, anthem and state institutions, instead of building it "from the bottom up," i.e., caring first of all for the citizens by granting them security, prosperity and a sense of belonging. Stressing that outward symbols, important as they are, do not make up for the absence of essential foundations like the rule of law, proper governance, democracy and citizenship, he called to rebuild the Palestinian state upon these principles, lest it turn into yet another corrupt, failing and tribal Arab regime.  


Ziyad Abu Zayyad (Source: Al-Quds, Jerusalem)

The following are excerpts from his column:[1]

"The questions that go through our minds these days are, What is the meaning of a state? What does it consist of? What makes a state worthy of the name, or not worthy of it? How can we establish a state and strengthen its foundations? True, we declared the establishment of the [Palestinian] state, and we sing its anthem and wave its flag. That is a good and heartening thing, for symbols are important in a struggle for national liberation. However, we must not be content with just symbols. They must serve as a basis for moving forward and lending [the symbols] real content and a tangible existence...

"In many parts of the PA, there is a recurring phenomenon that is taking root in our society: anarchy and illegal weapons are becoming the norm, crime is spreading, and [loyalty to] the tribe and the clan has become dominant. [This is] due to the absence of the rule of law, which is the most important principle of the state. This situation was not born in a day. It is the outcome of a method and a process of deterioration that still threatens to pitch us into an abyss, unless we make an enormous, ongoing effort to stop it... and ultimately to eradicate it. This is the challenge [we face]... We are still under occupation, and this in itself should be a powerful factor that unites us and places us in the same trench, and compels us first of all to maintain an utmost commitment to [our] moral and national [values], for they are the basis of our existence. This moral and national commitment must not characterize only the weak among us. It must [also] be of utmost concern for the powerful, who, for reasons known to everyone, have distanced themselves from the needs and the distress of the weak among their people.

"We first declared our state in 1988,[2] and since then we have repeated this declaration more than once – but we have not yet managed to consolidate [the state] and establish its existence on the ground. [This is] because we adopted a plan for building the state from the top down, instead of the other way around... [The top-down approach] gets stuck in the middle, without reaching the base, which is the people, and we are left with an edifice hanging in the air... Building the state from the top down means that there is a president and [other] title-bearers, such as ministers, generals, and heads of councils and institutions, [as well as diplomatic] vehicles with red license plates, government buildings with flags flying above them, motorcades that slice through the streets with police cars in front and behind, [complete with] bodyguards and blaring sirens. But all this is disconnected from the simple and ordinary citizen, for whom the state has become a burden rather than a refuge. This top-down state has not managed to reach the citizen and meet his basic needs and demands, the first of which are to be provided with security and a livelihood.

"We need a state that is constructed from the bottom up, not the other way around. A state that first of all guarantees rule of law, honest dealing and equal opportunity, and provides protection and security for the simple citizen, who has no political [circle] or tribe to protect him, and has nothing but faith in social solidarity and in the civil and cultural role of the state... The state must be rebuild from the ground up, on a clear and solid basis, which consists of enforcement of the rule of law, a separation of the powers, and a reliance on democracy, which is established as a method of operation and a way of life. I warn and draw the attention of every government official in the so-called state of Palestine that the people will not support the reproduction [in Palestine] of any Arab regime, for all the Arab regimes are corrupt and failing. What the people are seeing today is a process of reproducing these regimes, which must stop immediately.

"Let me add that building the state from the bottom up means giving the people a central role in it, so they can share the responsibility for success and failure... It is time for the state to descend to the street and start purging it of all the negative phenomena and hotbeds of corruption. If it does not start doing this now, the day will come when it can no longer do anything but become part [of the corruption]. We want a state that the citizen can feel he belongs to, not a state that makes him feel like its victim."


[1] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), October 27, 2019.

[2] The reference is to Yasser Arafat's declaration of Palestinian independence at the November 15, 1988 Palestinian National Council meeting in Algeria. The declaration had no practical significance but was part of the PLO's diplomatic campaign, which later led to the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state in the UN.  

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