[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

January 16, 2206

 

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

 

A Ten Day Campaign 

 

On Sunday the Israeli cabinet met to officially announce that it would allow the East Jerusalemites to conduct their election campaign according to the 1996 agreement. While all over the PA (West Bank & Gaza) the election campaign started the second of January, in Jerusalem it began on January 15. Thus, the campaign in Jerusalem will be for ten days. Polls taken in Jerusalem indicate that Hamas will take the four seats assigned for Moslems, the remaining two seats reserved for Christian Palestinian, will be contested by eight Christians Palestinians and this post of the district elections is still undecided.

 

In the rest of the PA, the latest poll taken during the first week of January 2006, indicates that Hamas is fast closing the gaps against Fateh; Hamas got 31% to Fateh’s 35 percent. In the proportional part of the elections for 66 seats, Fateh & Hamas will collect between 48 to 50 seats, in the district elections for the remaining 66 seats Hamas is expected to come ahead of the Fateh governing party. As a result of lack of cohesiveness within Fateh, Hamas might emerge as the largest party in the next PLC.

 

In Jerusalem, Fateh held a reception to open their campaign in the Jerusalem district at the Ambassador Hotel, and only twenty supporters come to celebrate the event.

 

Hamas Moderates its Platform

 

This week, the Hamas leadership removed the clause that calls for the destruction of Israel from its election platform, in an unexpected move to tone down Israeli and international fears in case Hamas will have the ability to form the next cabinet after the elections. All over the PA reports continue to predict the demise of the Fateh Movement and the phenomenal growth of Hamas.

Hamas intends, if the trend continues in their favor, to back a government of technocrats from outside Hamas in order to allow economic aid into the PA to continue to flow. Europe and the USA might as a result reassess their uncompromising rejection to deal with a Hamas lead PLC. These important ideological and political developments in a way reflect Mahmoud Abbas vision of the transformation of Hamas from a radical organization into a political party.

 

The National Economy

 

The Palestinian economy, despite the tremendous yearly growth of 7%, still cannot cover the obligation of the PA. In 2005, the budgeting deficit has grown tremendously (over 600 million dollars), and the departing World Bank representative Nigel Roberts criticized the PA for raising salaries and adding more people to the civil servants roll.

 

After the elections the PA not only needs to freeze employment in the government sector, it needs to encourage civil servants to leave government employment and become entrepreneurs. This objective needs guidance and training and investment in human resources. It is estimated that the creation of additional jobs costs $30,000 per person and this is the approach that the Palestinian Authority should carry in order to remove the huge burden of unarmed civil servants in its roll.

 

Law and Order

 

Mahmoud Abbas this month, by the end of January elections, will have to face the most important test of his rule. The Palestinian public, even before the world community, is demanding that he concentrate all his efforts in restoring law and order so that people can feel that they are safe. The PA effort should start by hitting hard, at first, on small armed gangs that claim to be part of the President’s party; this will lead other larger armed groups to sense that finally the PA is serious about removing arms from the public and upholding the respect of the rule of law.

 

President Abbas will be scrutinized by first his people, the Israeli public and government and the world community for signs that Abbas is serious. Abbas has to cross this bridge otherwise he will lose his ability to govern democratically.

 

Strawberry Exports

 

Although so far, the Jim Wolfensohn team has failed to bring into the PA the big bucks, it seems that donors are all postponing substantial economic until after the elections, yet the arrangements done by Wolfensohn to expedite the marketing and export of the major winter crop from Gaza, strawberries have been successful and the largest ever since strawberries were planted in Gaza.

 

But despite the economic success in Gaza as a result of the exports, the Paris economic protocol is in grave danger. The lack of discipline that led to the death of two Egyptian border-policemen and the breach of the wall that marks the border between Gaza and Egypt next to the Rafah passageway, has lead Israel to threaten that the Karni & Erez crossing points from Gaza into Israel would be transformed into international crossing points. If this happens, as defense minister Mofaz declared, it would bring to an end the last and most durable vestige of the Oslo process, the Paris economic protocol that still governs the economic relations between Israel and the PA.

 

As a result, the economic relations in Gaza will differ from those in the West Bank, were the common custom envelope is still being implemented, but which will mean that a new economic accord would have to be negotiated, a free trade arrangement might ensue instead of the present common custom envelope.

 

 

Fair Play in the Elections

 

The international monitors are flocking in; a sour taste is still being felt by independent candidates in 1996 despite the pressure of the monitors, Fateh played with the result of the elections at the expense of the independents.

 

In the recent Fateh primaries, cheating was the norm and this created tension within the various Fateh groups. Some government officials have boosted that whatever the official result of the election, Hamas will not get more than 27% of the seats. Fraud is expected, however, with all the parties contesting this election, independents feel that fraud can be prevented.