[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]

 

November 11, 2005

 

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

 

This week the Palestinian nation is marking the first anniversary of the passing away of Yasser Arafat. This is a period to assess the importance of the man and his place in history.

 

To be fair, Arafat will be remembered as the George Washington of Palestine. Before his rise to head the PLO, the Palestinian people almost lost their separate national identity. He was instrumental in regaining the recognition of the world community of the separate identity of the Palestinian people and their right to a state of their own in Palestine. He had become a symbol of his people himself.

 

For me, his greatest achievement was his ability to convince the great majority of his people to reduce their national dream of a state in all of Palestine to accepting the idea of the two-state solution and to open the road to mutual recognition with Israel. For this Arafat won the highest accolade of the world community, together with the late Rabin and Shimon Peres, Arafat became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

 

I would like to remember him for these achievements, for the other chapters are full of mistakes. Arafat could not manage to change from the leader of the PLO into a statesman – the head of a State in the making. Abu Ammar, as he is popularly known, did not delegate power and authority, he did not allow the growth of institutions, he was the decision maker for the most important decisions as well as the most minute details such as giving the order to authorize a flight ticket, paying the rent of an official, or providing scholarships for children of his supporters.

 

Arafat stayed in power for too long and power corrupts. None of his advisors dared to tell him that some of his actions are detrimental to the interests of the state. Those who dared were removed from power and became his enemies, instead of being appreciated for having the courage to tell the truth. 

 

But I would like to end by saying that Arafat, despite being an autocratic leader, was instrumental in creating our parliamentary system. The Israeli government in the Oslo process did not want us to establish the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).  The Israeli sides suggested an executive council of 24 members with no legislative power. Arafat fought for the expansion of this body to 88 members with legislative powers. The PLC at the beginning was almost ineffective in the presence of the strong executive like Arafat. This is now changing and hopefully the next PLC will create the balance of power necessary for building a real democratic system.

 

Foreign Affairs dispute

 

Again the PLO Foreign Minister and the nominal head of the Fatah movement Farouk Kaddoumi is in a direct confrontation with the PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Nasser al-Kidwa. The PA decided to reshuffle the stagnant diplomatic corps and to institute deep rooted reforms in the PLO-PA Embassies around the world.  These steps received the support of the PLC. Kaddoumi last week ordered the Palestinian diplomats to ignore the instructions coming out of the PA and not to leave their posts. Those orders by Kaddoumi are not going to be respected because the purse is now controlled by the Palestinian Ministry of Finance.  The Palestinian National Fund (PNF) is no longer in the control and no longer has the resources to pay the Palestinian diplomats.  The payroll of the diplomats is now undertaken by the PA Ministry of Finance.  This is another internal battle that Kaddoumi is losing and it creates sour relations among the Palestinian leadership and is dragging the reform process that is essential to good governance.

 

Primaries and elections

 

The Revolutionary Council of the Fatah movement met for two days this week in Ramallah to discuss the holding of internal primaries among its members. Despite the objections of many, the holding of the primaries was confirmed to be held in all of the governorates of the PA between November 18-20. The revolutionary Council also supported the holding of the legislative elections on January 25, 2006 and that those elections should be carried out simultaneously in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the same day. This was found to be the only democratic way of choosing Fatah candidates, yet the process was compromised by creating a committee headed by the President to have the authority of making changes after the primaries are conducted. Many see it as either undermining the primary system or as safeguarding the system by promoting the best candidates so that Fatah can come out of the January elections with better results.

 

PA appointments

 

In Bethlehem, the PA changed the governor of the district by appointing to this important administrative position PLC member Salah Taamari. Deciding on the appointment a short time before elections, local activists in the Bethlehem district believe that the PA made this change to tighten its grip on security prior to the start of the Christmas season in Bethlehem. It is a move to show that the PA is interested to see checkpoints around Bethlehem relaxed to allow pilgrims and tourists to enter Bethlehem.  This district of the West Bank so far has been virtually a closed military area by the Israeli authorities. Salah Taamari was elected to the PLC in 1996 and served as a cabinet minister most of the time since then with the support of the large Taamari clan. This powerful clan can be a source of stability or unrest depending on who’s at the top of the administration. It is believed that Salah Taamari, both as a former senior military man as a member of the clan can provide the security and stability that is needed to allow the area to be open for free movement after a long closure.  It is also worthwhile to note that Taamari as Governor of Bethlehem will not be a candidate to the Parliamentary elections in January.

 

Likewise, PLC Member Ghazi Hanania, the deputy speaker of the PLC has declared his candidacy for the position of mayor of Ramallah.  If he wins those elections, he too will be removed from the list of potential candidates for the PLC.

 

Amman hotel explosions

 

The Palestinian and the Jordanian publics along with the entire region is aroused and angry over the insane acts of terrorism that took place in three international hotels in Amman. Most if not all of the victims were local citizens including high security officials from the Special Forces in Palestine. It is a blow for the burgeoning growth of the tourist industry in Jordan. A consensus has been reached that suicide bombings are immoral and are to be fought and should stop wherever they are being carried out. It is one of the first steps in having public support in the fight against suicide bombings.  It seems that public opinion has turned 180 degrees and that suicide bombings no longer have any public support.