[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
June 18, 2006
This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora
The Good News
Fateh and Hamas according to several sources, including the PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahhar are on the verge of a national accord that will avert civil war and the need to hold a referendum on July 26. Cooler heads have so far found ground for agreement on 15 of the 18 clauses of the Prisoner’s Document. It might be possible to expect an agreement by Monday the 19th of June, if not a day earlier, by those who have been charged to bridge the differences between the various Palestinians movements. It is a major achievement that will allow most probably the creation of a National Unity government and would lead to the restructuring of the PLO to include all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The Bad News
The vicious cycle of violence has escalated. Scores of innocent civilians have been killed, and if unchecked, the growing violence will undermine all efforts to go back to the negotiating table. The Hamas government, through its spokesperson Ghazi Hamed, speaking in Hebrew so that the message will be heard, has called for a return to a bilateral “Tahdi’a”- calm- lull- where all violence, qassams and targeted killings will stop as a new beginning. The political advisor of Ismail Haniyeh, American educated Ahmed Youssef, has repeatedly called for a 50 to 60 years Hudna (truce, ceasefire) and if the Israeli government is unwilling to probe this issue, certainly in Israel, people close to the government should. In sixty years, the Palestinian state will hold 15 Parliamentary elections; does anyone expect Hamas to win all of them? It is not high time to stop shooting, in both camps, and start talking?
EU Aid Package
Finally the EU has succeeded in formulating a mechanism to resume the aid package to the Palestinian people. The Quartet, which includes the American side, has agreed to the package that initially will provide one hundred million euros from the EU ($129 million) and will ask Israel to release the approximately $65 million a month to this fund that Israel has frozen since March 2006.
The PA cabinet had two divergent reactions, one welcoming the decision to resume aid to the Palestinian people by the Minister of Finance, while the Hamas Foreign Minister Zahhar criticized it as by passing the legally constituted PA cabinet. President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the decision, but felt that the funding should reach the Palestinian people through the PA cabinet. Abbas, as the head of the PA, wants the executive authority which he heads and Hamas as part of it in the cabinet, to be involved in the EU mechanism.
Olmert’s European Tour
PM Ehud Olmert visited London and Paris, met with Tony Blair and Jacque Chirac and other high officials. The EU, not only Blair and Chirac, are conveying to Olmert that the proposed realignment plan will not be adopted or blessed by the EU. PM Olmert received the message, which, in a similar way, was delivered by the Israeli public. The latest polls have indicated that Israelis are lukewarm toward the convergence plan, and that they prefer bilateral talks and agreements.
Ehud Olmert still insists on his plans, and is back-pedaling by talking once again about a Palestinian State with provisional borders, which Mahmoud Abbas time and time again has rejected.
Before the end of June, according to previous announcements, Olmert and Abbas are going to have their first summit meeting after Olmert formed his new coalition. On the agenda of the meeting is the most important item of how to start negotiations according to the Road Map process. The success or failure of the whole meeting depends on the announcement at the end of the summit, if both will succeed on a formula to resume negotiations. Olmert has been accused that he is paying lip service to the bilateral talks, and that he is determined to go ahead with the convergence plan or a modified version of it.
A second trilateral summit is possible; Egyptian President is keen on convening such a meeting with Abbas and Olmert in Egypt. Mubarak has good relations with both sides, and feels that Egypt can play a constructive role in bridging the gap that exists in both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Moreover if an agreement develops, Mubarak has the ability to convince the various Palestinian movements to consider dealing positively with such a development.
Long Term Prospects
Many Palestinians believe that the political process to end the conflict will take many years even with the most optimistic perspective. Fateh and Hamas will for many years remain the major political players on the scene. The failure of the internal political elections to bring the desired results for political stability have rekindled the need to reconstitute the efforts to create a third bloc, a coalition that holds clear cut views on how to deal internally, vis-à-vis Israel and the international community.
This group has been disappointed by the weakness that the third parties have over political trends and developments on all fronts. The last elections provided this bloc with over 16 percent of the vote, but less than half the elected representatives. Coordination and cooperation is minimal and ineffective among these small parties. There is determination that despite the more urgent and grave issues facing the nation, it is imperative that parallel to the efforts to avert the disaster of civil war, efforts should start now on creating and working for a new bloc based on agreed clear principles, that should be applied only after the term of the present PLC ends in four years from now. Some of those principles concern a unified election law, a parliamentary system where the president is a symbolic head; especially that President Abbas has often declared he is not seeking a second term. A coalition that will advocate non-violent resistance of the occupation, and the acceptance of the Arab peace plan should also be on the agenda. A social democratic platform that adopts the market economy, work for a clean environment, and other worthy ideas to allow our people to chart its way to independence.
Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org