Jerusalem Times



[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]


This week in Palestine 8/20/2005






By Hanna Siniora


Evacuation of Settlers:


The world media focused its attention, on the evacuation of Israeli settlers from the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, and to a lesser extent on the four northern West Bank settlements. Wisely the Israeli authority shortened this traumatic event, although as a Palestinian I felt elated like most of my country-men, that similar to Yamit in Sinai, with the complete evacuation of settlers by next week, Ariel Sharon has created a precedent that eventually will apply in all of the West Bank.


Massacre in Shillo


The atrocious killing of four innocent Palestinian workers in Shillo by their Israeli driver, who boasted that his conscience does not rebuke him, and that he would repeat his heinous act again, demonstrated to what extent Israeli terrorists are willing to go. An awful lot of restraint was demonstrated by all the Palestinian political movements, and despite the pain, the Palestinian Authority (PA), demonstrated the capability to enforce law and order.


Kidnapping Continues


What marred this capability by the PA was the kidnapping of journalist Mohamed Wadhi, an Algerian soundman with France3, a French citizens. For the past week, the security apparatus headed by the Ministry of Interior led a concerted effort to free Wadhi but until this moment, there is no clue who carried the kidnapping and what are their demands. Apparently it is a rogue group that will be caught and punished.


Visit to Gaza


On the same day, I visited Gaza accompanied by an Israeli Journalist and we both toured the strip from the Palestinian side, and we felt safe and were able to meet a variety of people, farmers, businessmen, unemployed laborers, decision makers, members of the legislative council and a spirit of cautious expectation for better days was the general trend.

The low threshold of expectations is a good omen because people were looking for the ability to move freely, of finding new jobs, a better quality of life, and the ability of the PA to realize those expectations would either enhance its credibility or otherwise doom its leadership.


National Elections


The PA despite its complete preoccupation with the disengagement process, President Abbas and the cabinet, present permanently in Gaza, finally, announced that on January 25, 2006, national elections for a new parliament the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will take place. The basic and the new election laws were ratified and approved by the PLC, Presidency and the cabinet. The new system will create an expanded parliament from 88 seats to 132 seats, which will have half the seats elected proportionally and the other half district wise, similar to the old system.

In Jerusalem, many parties and groups are contesting the coming elections, I belong to a group organized around the theme of social and economic development that will field a state of candidates to contest the elections in the district of Jerusalem.


Local Elections


Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei announced the holding of the third round of local elections and fixed the date for the 29th. of September 2005. The nominations for candidates will take place for ten days from the 20th of August.

Previously similar rounds for local elections have taken place in many towns and villages in Gaza and the West Bank were women took many seats and Fatah and Hamas emerged as the two major parties.

So far with the exception of Bethlehem and Qalqilya, the elections in the cities will be left for later this year. These local elections have demonstrated the growing power of Hamas.


In Jordan Relations


King Abdallah II in a meeting with his cabinet, and the Jordanian Parliament brought the issue of the relations between Jordan and the PA, based on the recent political developments. Foremost, the call by international quarters of absorption of Palestinian refugees and granting those refugees citizenship in the Arab countries were they reside, beside discussing reforms and responsibilities of the cabinet, the parliament and the crown.

In Jordan, a large group of what is called Afghani Arabs, Jordanian citizens who were previously recruited to fight in Afghanistan the Soviet occupation and later returned to Jordan are suspected behind the Aqaba Eilat rocket bombing targeting two American military vessels.

The damage was limited but a Jordanian soldier was killed and another wounded, as the attempt misfired. The danger is that groups similar to those that carried the car bombings in Sharm El Sheikh and Taba have the ability to destabilize the regimes, and undermine the development of tourism in the region.


Gaza Economic Envelope


President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Qurei joined the masses in rejoicing the removal of the 21 settlements in Gaza.

But many issues remain pending, the most important is not when the Israeli army will hand over the area of the Israeli settlements to the Palestinian Authority., but the economic envelope that will exist following that is uppermost on the mind of Palestinian officials. If Israel will install a different regime than the custom union ratified in Paris and still operational, this will probably doom the economic development of the strip.

So far all the efforts of the Wolfensohn group has not clarified this issue, and it will not be resolved until, the Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian sides come to an agreement on the Rafah passageway and what controls are agreed upon.

What is becoming clear, Abu Mazen and his team are exerting their full efforts and slowly improving their control, despite the efforts to undermine the progress.