Is the flare-up
For the past week the vicious circle of violence kept claiming more
victims specially in the West Bank. The Israeli response to the Qassams
was severe in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas and all the Palestinian
organizations declared the readiness to resume the ceasefire. Even
Islamic Jihad had a meeting with Moustafa Buheiri and his Egyptian team
to return to the Tahdia.
The resumption by Israel of pursuing the targeted killing policy led to
Jihad's retaliation, while Hamas engagement in the violence basically
was to cover up the death of 19 Palestinians who fell victim when
unstable rockets exploded during the Hamas parade in Jabalia.
It looks like Egyptian and international efforts have finally succeeded
in putting a lid over the flare-up and the possibility of resuming
cooperation and talks although hurt but is not completely damaged. The
special envoy will soon resume his efforts on finalizing an
understanding over the crossings from and to Gaza.
Third round of local
Fatah claimed victory, certainly they did much better than the first two
rounds of local elections. They were better organized, their
representative did not divide the vote, and they won 546 seats compared
with 256 seats for Hamas. They won in 51 municipalities and Hamas in 13.
But Hamas despite coming second won control in 15 of the largest 32
municipalities while Fatah won in nine of the larger municipalities, but
the final tally for the remaining nine large municipalities depends on
what coalitions are going to be arranged. Fatah might be able to win
most of them.
The third round is an early test to the January 25 national elections,
Fatah has learned to organize better while Hamas has concentrated on
localities that gives it better opportunities of winning. The final
round of local elections will take place in the first half of December.
Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei escaped the eventuality of being toppled. The
main reason was the flare up of violence that prevented those who wanted
him out, in a period of national emergency. Also PM Qurei was able to
divide his opposition by promising to reshuffle his cabinet and to
change some of his ministers, on top of them General Nasser Yousef the
Minister of Interior. Additionally, PM Qurei and some of his ministers
who want to run for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) have to
resign a month before the elections. This would also apply to PLC
members who wanted to topple the government in order to become
ministers. The period before the elections is too short for them to be
of any use in office. Thus Qurei's neck is saved for the period up to
the parliamentary elections.
Sharon's Likud Triumph
Many Palestinians including myself believe that it would have been
preferable if Ariel Sharon lost to Benjamin Netanyahu. Now the political
stalemate will continue, Sharon is unable to remove the outposts as he
promised President Bush. The tug of war over the leadership and internal
primaries in the Likud will continue up to April 2006. Meanwhile, Sharon
as a politician with his back to the wall within his party would have to
out promise his challenger Netanyahu. That means we will hear more
campaign promises at the expense of us Palestinians. We will see more
settlement activity, more confiscation of land, even the establishment
of new settlements.
If Sharon had lost he probably would have bolted the Likud party and
started his own center party. Sharon then would reveal his real true
policies now all we hear is campaign rhetoric that serves to undermine
the credibility and strategies of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The past
two weeks since the disengagement almost destroyed the year long efforts
of Abbas to extend and reinforce the ceasefire in order to restart the
political process. In the meantime, we are in the wilderness one extreme
act of violence will undermine all the local and international efforts
to go back to the negotiations table.
When the report is read the future seems within one's grasp. What has
been achieved cannot be belittled, the resumption of security
cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, the smooth
removal of 8,000n settlers and the withdrawal of IDF forces, the
transfer of assets and green houses, certainly both sides owe a lot to
Wolfensohn and his team. However, the issue that is to be resolved, the
arrangements on the crossings from Keren Shalom, Rafah, the airport and
the seaport are still to be resolved. The Gaza strip is totally locked
because of the latest confrontations but we should not forget that
Israel with the evacuation of its last soldier declared the Rafah
crossing closed for six months and this additional act of unilateralism
that indicated to Gazans that the master is still there. The occupation
has not ended.
The outline of an understanding on the crossings has been marred by the
recent violence, certainly it looks like Israel has finally accepted the
involvement of a third party monitoring role (EU), but in this shaky
climate it might be that an agreement would not be reached during the
six-month mandate of James Wolfensohn and his team.
Palestinians recognize that James Wolfensohn has earned the respect of
both Israeli and Palestinian officials. A century-old struggle with all
its complexities cannot be regulated within the timeline of Wolfensohn's
mandate. Gaza so far has been the focus of those efforts but it should
not be forgotten that the West Bank needs as much attention. This is the
first time the big four picked a person with the knowledge and political
will to improve the conditions by using his wisdom on both parties. It
is time for those who appointed him to ponder how necessary it is to
extend his mandate. It is needed to stabilize the situation until after
elections in Israel and Palestine.