[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
April 9, 2006
This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora
The Hamas Message
The Hamas movement, since before forming the new PA cabinet headed by PM Ismail Haniyeh, is sending direct and indirect messages to the Israeli government that the Hamas movement wants to extend the “tahdea” ceasefire. The Hamas leader’s main thrust is to come to an informal understanding with Israel that would commence by introducing a ceasefire to stabilize the security needs of both sides. So far, this initiative has no takers on the Israeli side which have resulted in the escalation of the cycle of violence. The Qassams continue to pour on Sderot and other targets in southern Israel and the retaliation and targeted killings proceeds as the preferred policy of Shaul Mofaz, as long as he heads the Defense Ministry.
Hamas has to deal with the launching of missiles from Gaza, and the Palestinian public is helping Hamas in demanding those who fire missiles to cease using their neighborhoods. In Israel a change of leadership at the helm of the defense ministry might bring a change of policy. This mini war of attrition will probably continue unabated until PM designate Ehud Olmert forms the new Israeli cabinet in which the leader of the Labour Party Amir Peretz might become the new defense minister, and formulate a different policy.
Internal Palestinian Confrontation
On a daily basis, the Palestinian presidency announces new Presidential decrees extending the authority of the President, over the crossings (passageways) by taking direct change away from the Ministry of Interior, the appointment of Rashid Abu Shibak as the new head of internal security in control of police, preventive security & civil defense, the appointment of eleven new deputy ministers and other appointments. Ismail Haniyeh, announced that his cabinet does not approve of such decrees.
bu Mazen & Haniyeh, met to resolve their differences, and announced that the Presidency is not in the process of building a shadow cabinet that could replace the Haniyeh cabinet in case of failure. A joint committee was established to study all the issues in contention and deliver recommendations on resolving them, thus avoiding further confrontation between the presidency and the cabinet, during the next few weeks.
Military and Economic Sanctions
Last week Israel retaliated drastically against all the Palestinian organizations involved in firing Qassam missiles from Gaza into Israel. Targeted killing of militants rose dramatically, more than 20 Palestinians were killed and scores of others were wounded among them several innocent civilians. President Abbas announced that the PA will request an urgent meeting of the Security Council to stop the escalation.
The USA and the EU announced that economic support for the PA has been totally frozen, as the new Hamas government has not accepted the three conditions demanded by the donor community in order to continue funding the PA. This military and economic siege is choking every aspect of life in the PA. The new Hamas minister of finance announced that they took over the treasury with empty coffers and that previous commitment indicates that the PA owes 1.2 billion dollars, $640 million to the Palestinian private sector.
Omar Abdul Razeq, the Finance Minister, could not give a definite date to the civil servants, on when the Ministry will be able to pay the salaries of March 2006. All these economic measures, would directly affect the private sector, and the Palestinian stock exchange during the first week of the new cabinet went down by 5.6 % and the next few weeks will show more decline.
Abbas no Partner
The Israeli PM designate Ehud Olmert announced that his government has no intention to negotiate with President Abbas, claiming that Abbas lost his authority and effectiveness to the Hamas cabinet. This announcement is in line with the policy that on the Palestinian side, no partner exists. It is markedly in contradiction to the victory speech of Olmert, the night of the Israeli elections, when he sent an appeal to Abbas for bilateral negotiations. Abbas has never budged from the positions that the unilateral steps that Olmert intends to implement during the next four years will lead to disaster and the escalation up to a new war in the region.
Although the US State Department announced that humanitarian aid would be allowed, even at an increase of 50 million dollars, this is not going to offset the total collapse of the Palestinian private sector, unemployment will zoom to around 70% in the PA, and law and order will deteriorate leading to more violence.
The Alternative to Disaster
Immediately after elections in both camps, and in order to avoid internal and external confrontations, several Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals expecting economic sanctions called for the disbanding of the PA, and allowing the Occupied Territories to defacto and dejure return under the occupying power. First, to prevent confrontation and maybe a civil war situation between Hamas and Fateh, secondly, putting the full responsibility of running as well as meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people on the shoulders of Israel. A lot of people felt that this might be a putsch against the democratic process that undermines the right of Hamas to govern and prevents Hamas to have its electoral right to carry its program of reform and change.
Others among Palestinian believe such a course would remove all obstacles from in front the Israeli authorities and allow them to do as they please unilaterally, confiscating more land, and implementing their program without any formal opposition.
A third group believes that the only way to prevent the deterioration on all fronts economic, social and security wise, would be to ask the Security Council or the Quartet, or the international community, to face its responsibilities and create a form of trusteeship to take from Israel the West Bank and Gaza for a period of 3 to 4 years and receive from the donor countries funding to finance the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people until Israel evacuates the Occupied Territories.
So far, acting PM Olmert wants to convince Washington to accept his plan to unilaterally designate the borders of the future state of Palestine, as Olmert believes a weakened and besieged President Bush, suffering from the backlash of his involvement in Iraq will accept whatever Israel suggests.