[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


May 22, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora



On the Verge of Civil War


Despite all efforts to contain the rivalry between Hamas and Fateh, several confrontations are taking place almost on a daily basis, often leading to killing and wounding persons from both sides. The latest was the attempt to assassinate the head of the intelligence service General Tarek Abu Rajab who is also known as General Ahmed Shiniore. The attempt took place in the headquarters of the intelligence service in Gaza, in the shaft of the lift, this indicates that an inside connection in the intelligence service, aided the assassination attempt. The body guard of Abu Rajab, who is related to him, was killed; the General was severely injured as was several of his entourage.


The deployment of the special brigade, 3000 in strength, by the Interior Minister Said Siam in Gaza, and the counter march by the Presidential Guards also raised tensions all over the Gaza strip.


An explosive device, of around sixty kilos was discovered in front of the residence of Rashid Abu Shback, the head of internal security and police. The device was removed in time.  President Abbas appointed General Abu Shback to head the police in the PA. The Interior Minister did not accept the appointment and this resulted in the creation of the special force by the Minister in contradiction to the orders of the President.


All these issues and others, are some of the explosive problems facing the Executive branch of government headed by the Fateh President and the Hamas Prime Minister, in constant dispute over rights and responsibilities.


The deputy head of intelligence, in charge in the West Bank, General Tawfiq Tirawi, has been warning that assassination plots are being prepared to assassinate President Abbas and remove him from the political scene. If Abbas is removed or is unable to rule, according to the Basic Law in the PLC, the speaker Dr Aziz Dweik will become Interim President for sixty days until Presidential elections take place. This will lead to have the PA President and Prime Minister from Hamas. Assassination attempts on the President has not been confirmed by other sources has been vehemently denied by Hamas.


Can the Forthcoming Dialogue Succeed?


On the 24th of May, President Mahmoud Abbas will convene all the parties, to the national dialogue in his headquarter at the Muqata’a in Ramallah. Prior to the meeting, Abbas has declared that if the parties reach an agreement on fresh elections for both the office of the President, and the PLC, he would accept the decision even though Abbas has three  more years left in his term in office remaining.


This might be an outcome of the national dialogue; other outcomes might be a national unity coalition that will include all the parties in a new cabinet that will have Hamas and Fateh working together instead of competing for power.


A private sector initiative, led by thirty private sector federations, would like to see a positive outcome to the dialogue, and would prefer a cabinet of technocrats that does not have party members from Fateh or Hamas. That outcome would need the approval of the PLC, but will be able to deal with the economy, security, health, education and other fields professionally. The private sector is concerned about the security and the economy, and is keen to stabilize and improve internal and external relations otherwise, the economy will go bankrupt.


Dr. Aziz Dweik, the PLC speaker who was the first to launch the initiative for the national dialogue, and who will preside over its session after its launching by President Abbas talks about three priorities. The first priority is to find the appropriate method to lift the embargo and sanctions on the Hamas cabinet. The second issue is to discuss and clarify the growing dispute over prerogatives between the two branches of the executive authority (i.e. the President and the PM) and the legal interpretation of the Basic Law on these disputes. The third issue will be the needed reform of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. The reform process would focus on bringing Hamas and Jihad under its fold and holding a PNC meeting to elect and select members to this body, which eventually will elect a new PLO executive committee, which will be representative of all the national and Islamic forces in the Palestinian political arena.


The political prisoners’ initiative should not be forgotten as it will be included as part of the agenda of the dialogue. Observers feel that it is imperative that the Palestinian people should come out with an agenda that would relieve the tension of fighting over responsibilities, allow a close working relationship to develop that will help Abbas to lead the process of negotiation, clearly representing all the factions.


Success of the dialogue is not a sure outcome. Hamas has to accept the Arab (Saudi King Abdullah) initiative, and Fateh and Hamas have to agree on equal representation in the PLO. These two developments can allow harmony to be restored internally, and would restore international relations globally, and open the way for resumption of economic assistance to the PA. The outcome is unknown, the alternative is civil war.


Can the Bank Sector Avoid Collapse?


The three local banking giants in the region, the Arab Bank Ltd of Jordan, Bank Hapoalim, Bank Discount of Israel have reacted defensively to the American instructions on dealing with the PA..


The Arab Bank, among the biggest in the Arab World, burnt as result of libel cases by American citizens in the USA, victims to the violence in the region, closed their branch in New York and is not ready to deal in the transfer of funds to the PA fearing retaliation by the Bush administration. The management of the Arab Bank in Amman Jordan wants to avoid shaking the viability of this important economic institution and is unable to give any assistance in this time of need.


The two Israeli banks, Hapoalim and Discount, who have made sizable profits in the past decade from working as the correspondents to the Palestinian Banks, have informed that in three months time they are cutting relations. By July 5, several Palestinian banks would no longer be able to deal with the global banking system as a result. The Israeli shekel might disappear as the main basis of exchange in the PA. Trade between Israel and Palestine will be gravely affected; the PA buys from Israel the equivalent of billions dollars yearly and exports to Israel one billion. If trade ceases, the banking sector in Palestine will collapse, other factors also play a role, but the USA and Israel must immediately deal with this issue, otherwise the banking sector in Palestine will collapse.




Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.  www.ipcri.org