POSITION PAPER AND ANALYSIS ON IMMEDIATE CIVIL SOCIETY RESPONSE TO THE VACUUM OF AUTHORITY IN PALESTINE

A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE UNDER VERY DANGEROUS CONDITIONS

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.  and Zakaria al Qaq, Ph.D.

July 2, 2002

The analysis and recommendations in this letter results from a  generalization of the outcome of several joint Israeli/Palestinian meetings and discussion groups sponsored by IPCRI. These meetings and discussion groups took place during and after the recent incursions.

The current situation on the ground in the West Bank has created a vacuum in political, governmental institutions and polytypical leadership. This situation is at the same time filled with great dangers and new opportunities for significant possibilities for real change.  The Palestinian Authority has become completely dysfunctional, not able to provide security, police protection or civil services.  The recent closure of Hamas and other non-governmental service provider organizations has further enhanced the chaotic situation on the ground. The elimination of any Area “A” by Israel has created a situation whereby there are no clear “rules of the game” in place in the occupied territories. The old rules of the Oslo Agreement and the Paris protocol have become null and void. While in the occupation period of 1967 - 1993 the Israeli government was taking charge and responsible for the civilian population, since the 1994 agreements, it was the PA that was supposed to do that. With the recent developments, the Israeli authorities  are not legally taking charge of the responsibilities towards the civilian population, while the institutions of the PA have been more or less eliminated, even those related to law and order.

The talk of reform and the few decision that have already been taken in this regard will probably take more than a year to enact, if at all. The vacuum will last as long as the process of reform and re-structuring in the PA will take place, i.e., a year or two, and thus the vacuum will continue for a long time with no expected change in the attitude and activities of the Israeli army.

This vacuum will not be filled only by Hamas and leftists, but also with the growing  mafias and street thugs that are gaining de facto control of most communities due to the elimination of most PA security institutions. If elections are held under this environment, it is clear that the victory of those elections will go to those forces in Palestine that present the most extreme positions vis a vis the peace process, Israel and the United States.  We are likely to end with a situation that looks very much like Algeria.  

The existing vacuum will not remain static for long.  It is likely to be filled by the Islamic and secular leftist opposition in Palestine if nothing is done to prevent this. From our analysis there is a window of opportunity for real change that is small and its time frame is very limited. This window of opportunity should be used for Palestinian civil society and civil society leaders to provide new moral leadership for the Palestinian people.  The initiative started by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh with the petitions regarding suicide bombers is a good start in that direction.  The activities of the human chain that were supposed to be held this past weekend would have provided additional public support in this direction. The majority of Palestinian civil society is mostly a secular one;  is now free from the hegemony of the PA and the natural ally to Israeli and international forces of peace, conciliation and human development. Its objectives need to be clarified and highlighted: it is the only source of a new political moral and ethical guidance to the population as whole in presenting an ALTERNATIVE to the political platform of the extremists and fill this specific vacuum that the PA has not been able to produce in the past 19 months.

The actions taken by Palestinian civil society and its leaders must be strengthened through partnerships with forces and governments in the West, with the United States and the European Union leading the way together with natural allies in Israel.  It is clear that this initiative must be led by charismatic leaders going public with their initiatives now. The main candidate for this in Palestine is Sari Nusseibeh who could be supported by other leading players of civil society organizations.  On the Israel side people such as Ami Ayalon could play a very positive role.

Time is a most critical factor.  The window of opportunity is one that will be here for a limited period of several weeks. What is required is a decision of the United States and the European Union to address this opportunity immediately with both significant political and financial support.

The Palestinian Civil Society cannot replace the Palestinian Authority in providing services, however it can and it should provide the moral direction for the reconstitution of a peace process and for the establishment of democracy and clean government in Palestine.

There are significant people in Palestine and Israel who share this vision and would be happy to work on such an initiative. The concept of a program of action is at two levels: civic society level and the governmental level. At the civil society level, there is the need to support the instant creation and activating of three forums: A) A Palestinian uni-national forum of those NGO's active in peace dialogue, peace education and development; B) A joint  Israeli/Palestinian forum of those active in peace dialogue, peace education and development; c) an International partnership with the joint Israeli-Palestinian forum.  At the governmental level, the issue of looking at the Palestinian civil society and various activities and forums needs to be recognized and fully supported as at present it is the viable alternative to provide  moral/political guidance and to participate in the setting up of the terms of reference along which reform and stabilization programs will be set up, implemented, and monitored.

We cannot stress the time factor enough.  Immediate attention should be given and action must follow swiftly. 

Yours sincerely,

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., and Zakaria al Qaq. Ph.D.

Directors

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