[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


February 12, 2006


This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora


Hamas to Form Cabinet


On the 18th of February, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will convene to elect the speaker of the council and its two deputies, and to have its members swear allegiance to uphold the basic laws. Following that, President Abbas will ask Hamas, most probably the head of its electoral list, Ismail Haniyyeh to form the PA cabinet. Hamas has indicated, so far, that it wants one of its members to become the next Prime Minister (PM) and to take control of the Interior, Finance, National Economy and Education ministries. Hamas also indicated that it is seeking a National Unity Coalition, and is offering the Fateh Movement and other Palestinian parties sharing of power and duties. Initially, immediately after the election results were announced, Fateh leaders declared that they want to become the opposition and wanted to stay out of Hamas cabinet. Now that the shock of being ousted from power by the voters has abated, some Fateh leaders are reconsidering the possibility of joining Hamas in the next cabinet. It is apparent that for the good of the Palestinian people, a grand coalition with share responsibilities would be imperative for both Hamas and Fateh.


Speculation about the Hamas cabinet indicates that the if Hamas is unable to form a National Unity cabinet, Hamas is planning to put technocrats in most of the cabinet portfolios. Already it had been announced that the next minister of tourism will be a Christian Palestinian, a part that has been traditionally held by Christian Palestinians in the past. The Minister of Foreign Affairs could be held by a Fateh representative, if Fateh joins the coalition, or it might go to Dr. Ziad Abu Amer, a PLC member elected as independent from Gaza.


It is also possible that the coming Hamas cabinet might include candidates from all three national lists, the PFLP, the Alternative (Badil) and the Third Way (Salam Fayyad). All the previous Fateh led cabinets included ministers from other parties under the PLO umbrella, and Hamas would do the same.



Russia, France and International Aid


President Putin broke ranks with the USA by inviting a Hamas delegation to visit Moscow in the second half of this month. Israel immediately protested because it revealed that the isolation and boycott of Hamas has already broken down.


France, unlike Germany and UK, welcomed the Russian move and thus become the first EU country to accept the result of the democratic elections in Palestine. France thus understood the grave damage to democracy it rendered when it pressured the FLN Algerian government to annul the elections results years ago, because the Islamic movement won those elections. Civil war broke out in Algeria and its effects are felt to this day. Most hostile reactions to the unexpected Hamas victory have cooled down, and second thoughts are being considered, first to respect the democratic change of regime, and to give Hamas the opportunity to prove its ability to provide good governance, enforce security and the rule of law, and to moderate its platform.


The World Bank announced that it will transfer $60 million to the PA, after the Israeli government rescinded its freezing of customs and tax revenues that it transfers monthly to the PA. The disbursement of international aid for the next three months will continue by the EU. The Arab countries are being asked to increase their contribution in support of the PA budget. Around a billion dollars are needed on a yearly basis to prevent the PA form going bankrupt, and the Hamas cabinet will bear responsibility for allowing economic aid to continue.


Israel and the USA, have to review their attitude towards Hamas in a more pragmatic manner than the threat of freezing the transfer of funds by Israel, and the freezing of support infrastructure projects for the PA. The wiser approach is to help Hamas provide needed services, stabilize security and good governance.


Hamas declarations


So far declarations by Hamas leaders, Khaled Mashal and others indicate that Hamas is not going to recognize Israel shortly. Hamas leaders have pointed that they will respect all agreements ratified by the PLO on behalf of the PA, but they will attempt to improve on them. The PLO recognized Israel, but Israel so far despite this recognition has not accepted the emergence of an independent state of Palestine on all of the occupied territories from 1967. The Hamas platform includes that every inch of the historical land of Palestine is holy, yet at the same time, Hamas is offering a long term truce, fifteen years, if Israel withdraws to 1967 borders (the green line). It seems that the Hamas declared policy is changing tactics; they will reciprocate if Israel makes such moves and will not give concessions, unless concessions are given also by Israel.


Islam and insults of the Prophet


Local Hamas leaders met in Ramallah-Al Bireh with about 2,000 young people to discuss the public reaction to the offensive cartoons published in Denmark and other European countries. Sheikh Fadel Salah, the newly elected PLC member from Hamas, announced publicly that the Islamic world should demonstrate the progressive face of Islam; he said that all violence against civilians should stop that violence against diplomatic outputs and embassies should stop, that kidnappings should stop. Sheikh Salah, an influential Hamas leader from the Ramallah district said publicly that these acts of violence damage the image of Islam. He encouraged cultural engagement and not cultural confrontation. This public display indicates that Hamas leaders understood their responsibility to deliver a better performance to their public in all spheres, religious, cultural, security and stability.


Reciprocity is the Policy


Previously, Benjamin Netanyahu used to criticize the Sharon Government policy of unilateral disengagement, that it did not receive a concession from the PA in return of evacuating Gaza. Today Hamas is saying very loudly that we will consider giving payment, if payment is paid. No more payment for empty promises. Israel, if it pursues the refusal to engage the enemy, or if it asks the USA to ostracize and isolate the Hamas government, might kindle the flame of violence. The two people of the region, Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the whole region will go up in flame. The two state solution will be lost forever, and we will enter a long-term violent conflict that will degenerate into more hardship for all of us. It is possible that if the wiser approach of reciprocal moves might lead our people from the dangers of civil war and toward the road of peace. The next few months will indicate the way.