[[Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]


November 28, 2005


This Week in Palestine…Behind the News with Hanna Siniora


Primaries and polls


For the first time in the history of the Fatah movement, primaries took place on Friday 25th of November in order to chose candidates for the January 25 legislative elections. In the West Bank, only six out of 16 election districts participated. Ramallah took the lead by choosing Marwan Barghouthi to top the Fatah list, Marwan took 94% of the votes cast. On an earlier date, the district of Jericho chose top negotiator Saeb Erikat for the sole seat from Jericho. The nice other primaries in the West Bank will take place during the coming week with Hebron and Jerusalem districts slated to vote Friday December 2. In Gaza, the primaries took place Monday 28 November – for the first time in the history of the Fatah movement, but due to irregularities and militant interventions the results of the elections have been shelved for the time being.


Two of the most prominent ministers from Ahmad Qurie;s cabinet resigned to run for the PLC elections.  Dr. Naim Abu al Houmus the Minister of Education will run on an independent list and Dr. Mohammed Shateyeh, the outgoing Minister of Infrastructure and the Head of PECDAR will run on the Fatah list.


Most of those who won in the primaries come from the “young guard” and many who contested the elections and had government jobs did not fare well. Most of the new candidates came from the rank and file and it will be left for Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah committee that he heads to chose the best candidates, although they have to take into consideration the will of the party voters which cannot be ignored after conducting primaries.


Finance Minister Salam Fayyad who resigned from the Cabinet has denied that he has intentions to run for the PLC elections. It seems that dr. Fayyad objects to Minister of Interior Nasser Yousef’s intentions to appoint hundreds of new PA security troops to the PA payroll. Dr. Fayyad is questioning the PA security payroll and wants to examine all of the cases of new appointees, to be sure that those who receive payments are in fact serving in actual duty.  Intensive efforts are being exerted to convince Fayyad to withdraw his resignation.


The latest polls show that Fatah will receive 38.9% of the vote while Hamas will get 19.9%, the independent list of Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi will get only 2% and the PFLP will get 4%. Many are still undecided, and 75.5% of those polled indicated that they plan to exercise their right to vote on election day.


Rafah crossing


In presence of the EU contingent, President Abbas on Friday November 25 opened the Rafah crossing to the Gaza public for four hours under Palestinian supervision. Gaza was elated, even the Hamas leader Mahmoud Azahar attended, although not fully satisfied with the agreement.


President Abbas gain stature and credibility, as this is the first solid policy triumph that his administration recorded. It is yet to be seen what kind of arrangement will be in place for the Gaza-Israel crossings, and the link between Gaza and the West Bank. The first crop of produce, strawberries, green peppers and other vegetables will be ready for marketing in the next ten days, the smooth movement of these perishable goods through Karni is essential to the economic recovery of the Gaza strip.


Ex-World Bank president James Wolfensohn and his team are bust arranging the details of transporting the fresh produce to the Israeli and European markets, the success of their endeavor should boost the standing of Abbas among his people and help his party, the Fatah movement get better results in the parliamentary elections.  This is yet to be seen because no agreements have yet been ratified on how to move the goods through the various crossings from Gaza to Israel.


The London conference


Tony Blair’s government is holding a second economic conference in London to build on the first conference held several months ago. On the 12th of December the conference will convene and the Minister of National Economy Mr. Mazen Sinokrot will head with Salam Fayyad the Palestinian delegation (if Dr. Fayyad withdraws his resignation).


The conference will include the most important private sector representatives like Dr. Hanni Shawwa, CEO and Chairman of the Bank of Palestine, Zahi Khoury, chairman and CEO of Coca Cola and Jawal, Abdul Malik Abdel Jaber, the head of the industrial parks and chairman of several PADICO companies, Munib Masri, the Head of PADICO, Talal Nasser el Din, CEO of Birzeit Pharmaceutical Company and chairman of a new banking enterprise in Palestine, Hanna Abu Dayyeh from NET tours a leading tourism company and many others.


Joint and tri-lateral projects will be announced at the conference, foreign and Israeli investors will be encouraged to participate and to invest. The team of James Wolfensohn, as well as a representative of the World Bank, Dr. Nigel Roberts will be there to encourage investors. Major projects in natural gas, energy, desalination, housing and infrastructure, will be announced for immediate implementation and encouraging investors to join these projects.


IPCRI in the USA


This weekly column is written from Washington DC. I with my Israeli partner, Dr. Gershon Baskin, we are in the United states on assignments for several objectives. IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information annually holds a fundraising tour in the USA to raise funds for the institution and to attend the annual Board meeting of IPCRI-USA. This visit included meetings with Members of Congress, the US State Department and the National Security Council in the White House to discuss current political developments in Palestine and Israel. Additionally IPCRI is seeking the support of the US government to fund an annual program, similar to the former $10 million US government Wye River Fund for people-to-people activities that was initiated by Secretary Albright in 1998.  If the US Government agrees to create the fund, IPCRI, along with many others would apply for support.  The US Wye River people-to-people fund was a one-time effort that IPCRI would like to see turned into a formal expression of the continued support of the US for enriching and enhancing a people-to-people peace process on an annual basis.


Additionally IPCRI together with Search for Common Ground, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and the Palestinian institution Panorama intend to hold a conference in Washington in mid-May 2006 to accentuate the urgency of implementing the two-state solution before this possibility becomes impossible to achieve and to remind the Bush administration that it is of the utmost importance and urgency to persevere in this effort. It is essential that the US take the lead on this, just recalling the efforts of Secretary Dr. Rice in achieving agreement on the Rafah crossing after 20 weeks of negotiations.