[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


April 30, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora


Farewell to Wolfensohn


In the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the USA, the UN and others appointed many envoys to resolve the conflict or to alleviate the economic crisis in the conflict area. None of those envoys can compare with the knowledge, background, and dedication of former World Bank President James Wolfensohn. His appointment was made by the Quartet to deal with the disengagement by Israel from Gaza, and for the development of the strip.


Wolfensohn, succeeded in coordinating, between Israel and the PA, solved the crisis for paying for the greenhouses in the former gush Katif by contributing from his pocket and locating others. His involvement led the G7 to promise $3 billion for the development of Gaza. Wolfensohn antagonized AIPAC, which influenced the NeoCons and the Bush administration not to back his efforts and not to extend his tenure. Wolfensohn had to cope also with the emergence of Hamas as the legitimate leader of the PA cabinet.


The great promise of the valued work of Wolfensohn was blocked by internal and external developments. No previous envoy came to head such a mission with the knowledge and contacts he developed as the head of the World Bank. It is a shame that he is leaving at such a crucial period, politically and economically. It is hard to find a worthy replacement. The internal differences within the Quartet will not allow the appointment of an envoy in the near future.


In Palestine, we extend our thanks for his sincere and dedicated efforts, we miss you Jim.


The Chirac Proposal


President Mahmoud Abbas visited Turkey, Finland, and France in order to continue his efforts to help the PA cabinet resolve the financial squeeze that emanated from Israeli and International sanctions. A break-through that will resolve the issue of salaries might come out of the Chirac statement. This will be a positive result of Abbas visit to France.  President Chirac suggested that the World Bank will be in charge of a fund that will pay directly the salaries of an estimated 165,000 civil servants in Palestine. This will help alleviate the economic crunch that resulted from Hamas taking over the cabinet after winning the elections last January.


This week will be the second month that civil servants have not received their salaries. The Palestinian economy is sinking fast, both the public and private sector. Unemployment is rising, the purchasing power is diminishing, liquidity is constrained, a humanitarian crisis is setting, and warnings are being raised and no immediate answers, with the exception of the Chirac proposal which the EU and the PA look on favorably.


It is hoped this Chirac initiative will also receive the blessing of the Quartet and thus at least allow the injection of funds for the salaries to keep the economy from diving into bankruptcy.


The PLC call for Dialogue


Mahmoud Abbas, in response to the call for launching an internal dialogue by the PLC among all the national and Islamic forces, suggested that such dialogue should start by May 2. Hamas, is in favor of the dialogue and has asked for the postponement of the date to mid-May in order to prepare the agenda. Whenever the parties meet, the main issue is the need for a National Unity government to demonstrate that the Palestinian political forces have a basic agenda they are united on, to help resolve the economic and political crisis.


Hamas Internal Developments


After two months in power, the Hamas movement started to realize the difference between the political agenda of the movement, and the political needs of the PA cabinet, as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. When Khaled Mashaal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, accused certain elements, even up to Mahmoud Abbas, of treasonous collusion with the USA and the enemy, the Cabinet announced that it does not share such a position.


After the visit of Mahmoud Zahhar, the PA Foreign Minister, to various Arab countries, Zahhar and his colleagues realized that they have to consider the cabinet position on the Arab league peace plan. Zahhar, in the Gulf on Al-Jazeera satellite station, said that his government will sit with Abbas to negotiate bilaterally with Israel if Israel brings serious proposals.


Thus, Hamas, as a result of being exposed to real politics, extensive exchange with Arab leaders, the knowledge that they represent all the Palestinian people in being at the head of the PA cabinet, started to realize that the government has to demonstrate flexibility even if Hamas as a movement is unable to depart from its rigidity.


Even before the internal dialogue is expected to take place, several members of the Hamas Cabinet have announced that the Cabinet is in the process of declaring more advanced positions that will allow better coordination with the office of the President, to pave the way for bilateral talks with the international community, eventually with Israel.

Certainly the most urgent issue, beside the financial crisis and the payment of salaries, is a working ceasefire. The present situation of Qassams launched from Gaza into Israel and the Israeli retaliation in bombarding the Gaza strip must stop.


A ceasefire which all the Palestinian forces will agree on is needed, and then Israel should, in turn, respect by ending the policy of targeted killing. This should be the precursor to bilateral talks.


In Israel, this week, a new cabinet will be announced the new Defense Minister of Israel, Amir Peretz, promised a change in attitudes and policies. Both sides need to reevaluate positions, otherwise life will become impossible.