[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]
This week in Palestine.. Behind the News
By Hanna Siniora
Is the flare-up subsiding?
For the past week the vicious circle of violence kept claiming more victims specially in the West Bank. The Israeli response to the Qassams was severe in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas and all the Palestinian organizations declared the readiness to resume the ceasefire. Even Islamic Jihad had a meeting with Moustafa Buheiri and his Egyptian team to return to the “Tahdia”.
The resumption by Israel of pursuing the targeted killing policy led to Jihad’s retaliation, while Hamas engagement in the violence basically was to cover up the death of 19 Palestinians who fell victim when unstable rockets exploded during the Hamas parade in Jabalia.
It looks like Egyptian and international efforts have finally succeeded in putting a lid over the flare-up and the possibility of resuming cooperation and talks although hurt but is not completely damaged. The special envoy will soon resume his efforts on finalizing an understanding over the crossings from and to Gaza.
Third round of local elections
Fatah claimed victory, certainly they did much better than the first two rounds of local elections. They were better organized, their representative did not divide the vote, and they won 546 seats compared with 256 seats for Hamas. They won in 51 municipalities and Hamas in 13. But Hamas despite coming second won control in 15 of the largest 32 municipalities while Fatah won in nine of the larger municipalities, but the final tally for the remaining nine large municipalities depends on what coalitions are going to be arranged. Fatah might be able to win most of them.
The third round is an early test to the January 25 national elections, Fatah has learned to organize better while Hamas has concentrated on localities that gives it better opportunities of winning. The final round of local elections will take place in the first half of December.
Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei escaped the eventuality of being toppled. The main reason was the flare up of violence that prevented those who wanted him out, in a period of national emergency. Also PM Qurei was able to divide his opposition by promising to reshuffle his cabinet and to change some of his ministers, on top of them General Nasser Yousef the Minister of Interior. Additionally, PM Qurei and some of his ministers who want to run for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) have to resign a month before the elections. This would also apply to PLC members who wanted to topple the government in order to become ministers. The period before the elections is too short for them to be of any use in office. Thus Qurei’s neck is saved for the period up to the parliamentary elections.
Sharon’s Likud Triump
Many Palestinians including myself believe that it would have been preferable if Ariel Sharon lost to Benjamin Netanyahu. Now the political stalemate will continue, Sharon is unable to remove the outposts as he promised President Bush. The tug of war over the leadership and internal primaries in the Likud will continue up to April 2006. Meanwhile, Sharon as a politician with his back to the wall within his party would have to out promise his challenger Netanyahu. That means we will hear more campaign promises at the expense of us Palestinians. We will see more settlement activity, more confiscation of land, even the establishment of new settlements.
If Sharon had lost he probably would have bolted the Likud party and started his own center party. Sharon then would reveal his real true policies now all we hear is campaign rhetoric that serves to undermine the credibility and strategies of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The past two weeks since the disengagement almost destroyed the year long efforts of Abbas to extend and reinforce the ceasefire in order to restart the political process. In the meantime, we are in the wilderness one extreme act of violence will undermine all the local and international efforts to go back to the negotiations table.
Wolfensohn’s Second Report
When the report is read the future seems within one’s grasp. What has been achieved cannot be belittled, the resumption of security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, the smooth removal of 8,000n settlers and the withdrawal of IDF forces, the transfer of assets and green houses, certainly both sides owe a lot to Wolfensohn and his team. However, the issue that is to be resolved, the arrangements on the crossings from Keren Shalom, Rafah, the airport and the seaport are still to be resolved. The Gaza strip is totally locked because of the latest confrontations but we should not forget that Israel with the evacuation of its last soldier declared the Rafah crossing closed for six months and this additional act of unilateralism that indicated to Gazans that the master is still there. The occupation has not ended.
The outline of an understanding on the crossings has been marred by the recent violence, certainly it looks like Israel has finally accepted the involvement of a third party monitoring role (EU), but in this shaky climate it might be that an agreement would not be reached during the six-month mandate of James Wolfensohn and his team.
Palestinians recognize that James Wolfensohn has earned the respect of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. A century-old struggle with all its complexities cannot be regulated within the timeline of Wolfensohn’s mandate. Gaza so far has been the focus of those efforts but it should not be forgotten that the West Bank needs as much attention. This is the first time the big four picked a person with the knowledge and political will to improve the conditions by using his wisdom on both parties. It is time for those who appointed him to ponder how necessary it is to extend his mandate. It is needed to stabilize the situation until after elections in Israel and Palestine.