[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


May 29, 2006


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



Surprise Referendum


Last thursday President Mahmoud Abbas opened the national dialogue conference at his headquarters in Al- Mouqata’a in Ramallah in the presence of the speaker of the PLC and numerous members of all the national and Islamic parties as well as representatives of the private sector. Simultaneously in Gaza PM Haniyeh, from the Shawwa Centre, liaised with Ramallah by video conference facilities. As expected all the speakers including Abbas called for national unity and forbade the spilling of Palestinian blood.


The surprise was forthcoming in the last part of the President’s address in which Abbas gave the conference ten days to come out with an agreed upon national program. Abbas boldly announced that if no such outcome is forthcoming, then a national referendum will take place in forty days based on the national reconciliation document ratified by Palestinian political prisoners.


Abbas, showed rare signs of leadership and boldness. The Palestinian public at large fully supported his initiative, which put pressure on the parties to the dialogue to come out with an agreed upon national unity plan.


The Immediate Outcome


After two days of speeches, the speaker of the PLC Sheikh Aziz Dweik announced the results of the enlarged plenary meetings. The conferees unanimously came out against the unilateral plans of PM Ehud Olmert. Also, the conference gave its full support to the legitimately elected government of PM Ismail Haniyah and requested the international community to lift the sanctions and deal directly with the PA cabinet. All the parties agreed that the PLO and its Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are in charge of political negotiations with Israel.

During next week talks, committees composed of senior members of the Islamic and national movement under the chairmanship of Abbas will try to arrive to a unified national plan that will deal with the reform of the PLO, the adoption of an agreed upon version of the prisoners document, with modifications and additions that will help prevent civil war and chart the relations between the President and the Prime Minister.


Hamas and Islamic Jihad are determined not to recognize the State of Israel, and are not keen to accept the Arab peace plan, and previous PLO agreements with Israel. Yet both movements are aware that they have to be part of the Arab league consensus.


In the committees, they will deal with the other urgent issue how to go about implementing the Sharm El-Sheikh dialogue agreement brokered by Egypt to reform the PLO and incorporate Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO.


The reorganization of the National Security Council headed by Abbas that includes the PM and Interior Minister and representatives from the security forces has to be finalized, to prevent further confrontations between the security force newly organized by Interior Minister Said Siam and the Fateh Al-Aqsa brigades and Abu Rish Fateh brigades.


By the end of next week, the conference will either come out with a national unity plan that will provide answers to the various issues of contention or will provoke Abbas to call for a national referendum.



Uncalled for Announcement


The untimely announcement by Israel that permission has been approved by the security establishment that will allow the Presidential Guard of President Abbas to receive arms and military equipment appeared to be an intentional step to add to the friction between Hamas and Fateh. It should be known that since the election of Mahmoud Abbas in January 2005 to the Presidency, Abbas has been constantly asking for upgrading and refurbishing the security forces in the PA, and Israel has constantly denied approving such requests.


Israel, in announcing that it is willing at this juncture to approve beefing up the capability of the Presidential Guard smells as an international attempt to foment the rivalry between Hamas and Fateh blocs. Adding more fuel, the media in Israel said, quoting an unidentified source in the Fateh security structure, that says that civil war is inevitable in the PA and that Fateh and Hamas forces will soon clash .


The PA Economy Sinking Fast


In a couple of days the 170,000 PA civil servants will complete three months without pay. A third of the Palestinian public is directly affected, the governmental infrastructure has collapsed, few governmental workers have the ability to reach their offices, they are totally destitute. The EU mechanism is not yet set-up; it needs at least a month to start to operate.


PLC member Salam Fayyad believes that the international community is not properly aware of the gravity of the collapse of the economy and the security repercussions that will ensue.


In the banking sector, the PA may be forced to abandon the Israeli shekel and adopt the Jordanian dinar as its currency as a result of restrictions on the transfer of funds. George Abed, the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) head announced in Ramallah. The Palestine Security Exchange index hovers around the 600 points, a steep drop since January 2006 just before the elections when the index was over 1,050 points.


All the economic indicators indicate a catastrophic downturn that continues to accelerate downward  faster than all expectations.


State of Hamas


Despite the contradictory statements of Hamas leaders inside and outside the country it should be known that Hamas military wing has not fired a single shot the past 16 months signaling that in Government Hamas is interested in a long term ceasefire and an accommodation with the government of Israel and the international community. Hamas as a movement is not yet ready to recognize the state of Israel.



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