[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]

September 2, 2005


This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora




Egyptian Input


Egypt is playing the constructive role of troubleshooter in facilitating and mediating between the PA and Israel. The recent visit of Minster Omar Suleiman to Gaza and the West Bank (WBG) and to Israel, his meetings with all the active players and his ability to cement and preserve the ceasefire demonstrates the vital role Egypt plays.


If President Mubarak were not immersed in his reelection campaign, most probably he would have been the person who would have addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and reiterated Egypt’s support to the Palestinian cause and the establishment of an independent state.


President Abbas, like his predecessor the late Yasser Arafat, appreciates and heavily relies on Egypt’s support and good offices with Israel and on many occasion the USA. In a way the intended visit of King Abdullah of Jordan to Israel and the PA next week, signals Jordan’s efforts to play a similar role in encouraging further disengagements from the West Bank.


Keeping the Paris Economic Protocol valid in WBG.


In addition the many issues that have cropped up following the disengagement from Gaza, the most significant breakthrough that is developing is the compromise solution to the new arrangements on running the various passageways from and to Gaza. Here, Minister Suleiman is helping both parties – Israeli and Palestinian – to keep the Paris economic protocol valid over the entire WBG. The PA needed to demonstrate that the evacuation of Israeli settlers end the eventual total Israeli military withdrawal is going to change significantly the quality of life and allows total freedom of movement inside the Gaza strip and towards Egypt. At the same time recognizing that until a permanent settlement is reached in the WBG, for the economic well being of the Palestinian economy, the present economic envelop should not change. 


Omar Suleiman is in the final stages of a compromise agreement that would allow the PA and Egypt to be in full charge of the Rafah passageway for outgoing as well as in coming human traffic. And to keep the economic envelope intact, a new terminal near Dahniya – Kerem Shalom and the Egyptian border will be built for the movement of goods, Israel  continue to collect taxes and conducting security checks.


Fight over Jerusalem


While pragmatic arrangements are ongoing in Gaza, the control of the future of Jerusalem has started in earnest. It is being exasperated by the struggle over the leadership of the Likud party and the prospects of early elections for the Knesset. To the detriment of the road map peace process, the campaign promises by Sharon and Netanyahu are poisoning the positive climate created by the quick and successful disengagement from Gaza.


This is also being seen in Palestine, where for the first time in the history of the PA, the cabinet of PM Qurei met in Abu Dis, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem under PA control in order to demonstrate particularly to the Palestinian public in the Jerusalem governorate that the PA is exerting all efforts toward safeguarding East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine. PM Qurei was quoted: “The PA is giving priority to the issue of Jerusalem because it could wreck the peace process.”


Sharon’s intention to build 3,500 new housing units and Israeli police headquarters in the E-1 area between Maale Adumim and East Jerusalem - if not stopped - would undermine the efforts to revive the negotiations over the West Bank. “What is happening is very dangerous. Israel is expanding the boarder of Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. Who will accept that? Who will accept swapping Gaza for Jerusalem or for the West Bank?” Qurei asked. 


The main goal of the construction of the Maale Adumim settlement bloc is to separate the Northern part of the West Bank from its Southern part, which would impede territorial contiguity and isolate East Jerusalem.


Fatah internal disputes


Like in Israel, election campaigning is at a feverish level. Hamas is considering the postponement of local elections intended for late September and early December, until after the PLC national elections in January 2006. According to the recent new legislation, which is amending the local election law, candidates must be labeled according to their party affiliation. Thus, a Hamas candidate or a Fatah candidate must be identified clearly to the public. Within the Fatah camp, activists in the movement, realizing that they have to prepare the grounds for one Fatah list for the PLC election, are for the first time planning on conducting the holding of primaries that will make it mandatory for the “old guard” and “the young guard” to enter this process and the successful candidates will be the selected Fatah list. Fatah hopes that the democratic selection of its list will be observed and satisfy all the contestants and thus prevent fragmentation.


In conclusion, the situation in Palestine is fluid, cautious optimism prevails but at the same level the suicide bombing in Bees Sheba demonstrates how precarious and fragile the security issue continues to be. The credibility of Abu Mazen, Nasser Youssef and the PA is on the line, their ability to prevent serious breech of security and good governance is an indicator of future progress on the road to peace and independence.