[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


May 15, 2006


This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora



Commemoration of the Nakba


On the fifteenth of May every year, the Palestinian people are reminded of the catastrophe that befell them before 58 years. This year the commemoration arrives at one of the worst junctures of the Nakba. The policy of closure pursued since 2000 has taken its toll on the people and the economy. Israel, for the past few years has been arresting nightly about 15 activists daily from the various Palestinian organizations. Gaza, despite the disengagement, is on the verge of starvation, the West Bank is dismembered into cantons and Jerusalem is totally isolated from the rest of the country. Unemployment is rising and more people are under the poverty level warns a new study by the World Bank.


In Palestine, the executive authority is shared between Hamas which controls the parliament (PLC) and the Cabinet, and the office of the president which is the last bastion of Fateh. On the ground, the rivalry between the two largest Palestinian movements Fateh and Hamas has led to pitch battles in Khan Younes that led to several Palestinians killed and scores wounded. 


The sanctions initiated by Israel, the USA and most of the international community, as Hamas formed the PA cabinet, led to the inability of the PA to pay salaries to 165,000 employees for the past 2.5 months, and the repercussions are felt throughout the Palestinian economy.


The 58th anniversary of the Nakba could not come at a more depressing moment for the Palestinian people. Thousands upon thousands of Palestinians have fought and resisted in order to bring change and hope, yet what can be seen is that instead of making progress, the conflict is deeper, and the hope for an equitable fair resolution of the conflict and the realization of the aspirations for peace and independence are far off.


This is the time for an all encompassing assessment by all the factions, of positions and strategy, in order to rekindle the hope for peace and self determination.  


A Glimpse of Hope


The Palestinian political detainees, more than ten thousand of them in Israeli prisons, are the ones who in the past few days have rekindled the flame of hope again. These brave men who fought and resisted the occupation are sending to the Palestinian people and to the leaders of Hamas and Fateh in government, an accord that prisoners from all the factions, Fateh, Hamas, Jihad, PFLP, DFLP and others have ratified after deep and long deliberations.


Outstanding leaders like Marwan Barghouti from Fateh and imprisoned PLC member from Hamas Sheikh Abdul Kahleq Natshe and others in Israel’s Hadarim prison arrived to an agreement that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in all the lands occupied by Israel in 1967, a reference to the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem. It is clear that those who fought and are paying the price in prison have reached an accord that clearly implies the recognition of Israel, and allows the Hamas movement to climb down its rigid covenant that refuses to recognize Israel.


President Mahmoud Abbas endorsed the prisoners’ document, and will introduce it as the basis of the factional dialogue that will start in his office on the 23rd of May in Al-Mouqata’a in Ramallah and then move to the offices of the Parliament (PLC) in Ramallah and Gaza. The prisoners have a huge moral pressure on the leaders of all the factions. Even though some elements in Hamas are lukewarm towards the prisoners’ accord, the moral weight of the prisoners will force the leadership of Hamas to take note of the prisoner’s agreement.


Hamas’ presence in government, and as a result of the various visits paid by its ministers to various Arab, Islamic and foreign governments, Hamas has been repeatedly been told that Hamas has to accept the Arab peace plan. The prisoners’ document also paves the road for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to enter the PLO umbrella in the quest of reforming and broadening the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO is the party that negotiated the Oslo accord, all previous agreements with Israel, and has accepted the Road Map peace initiative that involved the quartet (The USA, Russia, EU and UN) in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Jerusalem in the Spotlight


The next four years will show how effective is the international stand against the onslaught on East Jerusalem. As a collective, all the countries have repeatedly told Israel that the future of Jerusalem and the demarcation of borders can not be done unilaterally.


Olmert is challenging the USA by starting to build a police station in the E1 area that separates Male Adumim from East Jerusalem. Also plans are being prepared to build 3,200 housing unit in the same area, if that ever happens that would undermine all efforts toward ending the conflict and building durable peace between Israel and Palestine.


In Jerusalem, the municipality is making it almost impossible for Palestinians to receive licenses to build housing, the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem has grow from 65,000 in 1967 to close to 300,000 now, the area for building and expansion has shrunk by land confiscation and the array of settlements around east Jerusalem, many Palestinians have been forced to build without proper licensing. Researcher Meir Margalit found that the municipality aggressively demolishes Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem while ignoring similar building by Israelis in West Jerusalem.


A huge shortage of classrooms exists in East Jerusalem as only 15-17 % of the municipality budget is allocated to East Jerusalem, many dirt roads have been left unpaved for years, and hardly one or two sport facilities are available in East Jerusalem.


Despite all the inconveniences, Palestinians are flocking back into East Jerusalem, as the separation wall is being extended, and congestion housing and lack of classrooms and other services is in greater demand.  


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