[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
April 17, 2006
This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora
The State of affairs in Palestine
The economic performance during 2005 seemed to show some success on the road to economic recovery, since late in 2000 when the economy now nose-dived as a result of the start of the second Intifada and Israeli measures to stifle it. 2006 appears to be heading again to conditions similar to those that led to the loss of 40 percent of GDP in 2000. The situation this year is graver, as the PA, with Hamas in government, has lost for the present time almost all international assistance including support from the EU, USA and other donor countries (Norway, World Bank). The fragile Palestinian economy, that depended on more than a billion dollars of assistance, regular transfer of revenues collected by Israel to the PA, is facing economic strangulation, by being denied the means for recovery, and driven toward total collapse.
Palestinian Democracy under Siege
In 1996, for the first time in Palestinian modern history, the people participated in general elections and elected their first parliament (the PLC) and their first president (Yasser Arafat). In that election, some of the Islamic (Hamas, Jihad) and national (PFLP, DFLP) boycotted the elections, to accentuate their opposition toward the Oslo accord that led to mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO. Ten years later, the second parliamentary general elections took place under difficult Israeli repressive economic and military measures to counter the effects of the second Intifada. This time, all the Palestinian national and Islamic movements (with the exception of Islamic Jihad) participated and the democratic process led to the emergence of Hamas as the majority party in the PLC and to the demise of the previously dominant Fateh movement to become the leader of the opposition.
Israel and the USA declared their unequivocal opposition to Hamas taking over the PA and forming the Hamas cabinet. Israel froze precious revenues collected on customs tariffs and VAT clearances, the USA suspended all forms of assistance to the Hamas controlled PA, the EU and other donor countries followed in their footsteps. Within the PA, the immediate result has been economic strangulation. So far, Hamas, despite Arab promises of greater economic support, is unable to pay the salaries of 140,000 civil servants and security personnel, additionally, unable to pay the private sector more than $640 million for goods and services rendered, unable to pay the local banks loans that it incurred, and unable to service more than $600 million in foreign depts.
Collapse of the Economy
If this situation festers and deepens in the next few months (the next 100 days) a chain reaction of developments would lead not only to the bankruptcy of the PA but to the collapse of the private sector, many of its nascent projects, and even to the banking structure in Palestine.
Israel and the USA and most of the international community are exerting this tremendous pressure on Hamas in order to force Hamas to meet three basic conditions. First, to recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, secondly, to disband the terrorist elements (resistance movement as they are called) and collect their weapons, thirdly, to have Hamas recognize and accept previous agreements ratified between Israel & the PLO.
Hamas considers these three conditions as the end result of implementing a successful negotiated settlement. Hamas is hampered by its Covenant that claims every inch of the sacred land of Palestine. Hamas, through its leaders, and in direct and indirect back channels, has indicated its readiness to start a process by discussing first a short term or even a long term ceasefire. Hamas raises the issue that for the past twelve years, first the PA under Yasser Arafat, then under Mahmoud Abbas, recognized the state of Israel, promised to disarm the militants (although unable or reluctant to fulfill this condition) and ratified agreements including the road map process (that Israel undermined by setting at least 14 preconditions), to no avail. All UN resolutions from 1947 till to-day are not yet implemented.
The deadlock can persist for several months, and the brunt of such policies will affect directly the Palestinian people and the private sector as well as the public sector. The recovery has fizzled, the economy is going back to the hard times of the first few months of the second Intifada, unemployment is rising dramatically, and investments have dried up. The Palestinian public is not blaming Hamas, the man in the street is talking of collusion among Israel, USA, EU donor countries and some are extending it to the Palestinian presidency, this will damage the pragmatic, moderate, democratic camp in Palestine. The sanctions will not damage Hamas, it will finish these forces in Palestine who have accepted a compromise solution and who up to the moment still command a majority among the Palestinian public. Israeli, American and the EU officials and those who are behind the policy of sanctions will cause further radicalization within the public in Palestine.
The best and only road to peace is to return to a bilateral process, to accept the results of the elections, to continue to insist on a bilaterally negotiated two-state solution, to give Hamas the possibility of accepting the international consensus, specially the Arab consensus of a two state solution as elaborated by the Arab peace plan, that the recent Khartoum summit conference have declared as the Arab consensus in dealing with Israel.
Allow Hamas to demonstrate responsible leadership, or else pay the price of intransigence, the Palestinian people alone are the party to judge the performance of Hamas; they are the party who should dismiss them, if they are unable to face the reality.
In my opinion, I believe Hamas is willing and able to moderate their positions, they are willing and able to climb down the high tree of their slogans, they should be given time to do so, not through sanctions but by inducement toward constructive change.