[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

June 4, 2006

 

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

 

 

Three days Remain for the National Dialogue

 

President Abbas returned from his trip to Tunis and a meeting of the Central Committee of Fatah that led to reconciliation between Mahmoud Abbas and Farouk Kaddoumi, the General Secretary of Fatah and the PLO Foreign Minister.

 

Before the January elections that Hamas won, the relations between Abbas and Kaddoumi soured as a result of President Abbas taking away from Kaddoumi the authority of running the diplomatic offices of the PLO and transferring it to the PA Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nasser Al-Qidwa. Abbas now, in order to gain the support of Kaddoumi for the referendum, returned to Kaddoumi the right to run the diplomatic prerogatives by taking it away from the present PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahmoud Zahhar.

 

Abbas chaired in Ramallah on his return from Tunis, in the presence of the speaker of the PLC Aziz Dweik, and the members of the National Dialogue Committee, but in the absence of the Hamas representative Adnan Asfour, a crucial meeting in which Abbas clarified that the ten day period for the dialogue will end Tuesday morning June 6, 2006. Abbas further stated that until the Interior Minister Said Siam withdraws from the streets of Gaza, the Hamas militia that was called the “support brigade”, Abbas will not travel to Gaza. The meeting also authorized a committee of three, the speaker Dweik, Abbas special representative former Fatah speaker of the PLC Rawhi Fattouh, and the prominent representative of the private sector Mounib Masri, to contact Hamas and PM Ismail Haniyeh, to gauge the possibility for arriving to an agreed upon common position or else to go ahead with the referendum on the prisoners document.

 

Hamas position as declared by its spokesman in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri, and the head of its Polibureau in Damascus Khaled Mash’al, the outright refusal to hold a referendum on the prisoners’ document, while PM Ismail Haniyeh, considers the document incomplete and emphasizes the exchange of a long term ceasefire in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 borders. The Arab peace plan initiated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is not accepted by all three Hamas leaders.  

 

It is doubtful, as a result to expect that the national dialogue will lead to reaching a common position between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other forces in the Palestinian political street led by Fateh and the other movements that embodies the PLO. A confrontation is expected, as Hamas insists that President Abbas cannot call for a referendum unless the legal basis and proper legislation are approved by the PLC, where Abbas has no majority. Yasser Abed Rabbo and others close to Abbas, claim that President Abbas can bypass the PLC in holding a referendum as Abbas intends to do if the national dialogue fails to bridge the gap, and arrives at a common position.

 

Civil Servants Salaries

 

For the past weeks, civil servants, police and security personnel have held several demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank demanding the PA pay their salaries. Three full months has elapsed without pay. The Minister of Finance, Omar Abdul Razek has announced that the PA will by Monday pay 40,000 employees out of 170,000 whose salaries are under 1500 NIS (around $330), one month salary, as well as the grants to the families of martyrs, prisoners and the wounded. A total of sixty million shekels (13.4 million dollars) will be paid through the local banks to the employees. Those who previously collected their salaries through the Arab Bank Ltd will receive their salaries each in his local post office by lists for that purpose being provided by the Minister of Finance. The remaining 130,000 employees whose salaries are above 1500 NIS will have to wait until the MOF can find the resources. Omar Abdul Razek explained that the Arab Bank has been excluded from the arrangement, by mutual agreement, in order to avoid pressures faced by the bank from libel cases in the USA.

 

The EU has not yet finalized the special mechanism to pay the salaries, of workers in Health and Education, and so far no clear indications are given how almost 70,000 police and security personnel are going to be paid.

 

New Settlement in the Jordan Valley

 

In the Jordan valley, a former army outpost has become the new settlement Maskiot with full government-approval. Maskiot violates two basic commitments to the USA, one not to establish new settlements, and not to settle ex-settlers from the settlements in the Gaza strip to the West Bank. Other implications to the establishment of Maskiot, is that Olmert wants to annex or bring under Israeli control the Jordan valley and keep not only security control of the border with Jordan, but also keep control of the Allenby and Damia crossings between the PA and Jordan and prevent those crossings from developing like the Rafah crossing after the Israeli realignment or convergence from the West Bank.

 

 

 

Sderot and Qassams

 

Hamas denied that it had resumed firing Qassam rockets from Gaza toward Israel. Recently, several reports in the Israeli press intimated that Hamas has broken the Tahdi’a and that its military wing is firing Qassam at Sderot, with the intention of killing the leader of the Labour party, the present Defense Minister of Israel Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot. Hamas leaders not only declared that even before the January 2006 elections its military wing has completely abstained from any military action against Israel and has kept a unilateral ceasefire, but that Ismail Haniyeh has constantly asked Israeli leaders to negotiate a long term (10-20 years) ceasefire. Israeli military and security higher ups on several occasions publicly expressed that Hamas had not engaged in military matters for almost a year.

 

Bil’in Revisited

 

The gallant struggle by the village of Bi’lin against the separation fence, has continued every Friday, with the villagers, Israeli and international peace activists demonstrating together against the fence. The Israeli army is ruthlessly trying to suppress this weekly show of solidarity that leads to scores of people weekly being beaten and wounded. The local and international press has followed the demonstration, persevered in its coverage and it has become an embarrassment to the Olmert government. 

 

Other groups have been encouraged to follow suit and Bil’in has been put on the map, as Beit Sahour (a town in the Bethlehem district) was placed during the first Intifada as a model of non-violent resistance of the occupation.

 

 

Mr. Hanna Siniora is the Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information   www.ipcri.org