[[ Jerusalem Times : Opinion ]]


October 8, 2005


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




Abu Mazen-Sharon summit


In the absence of any major violence, a summit will take place between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the latter's office in Jerusalem. The announcement came from the Royal Palace in Amman to indicate that King Abdullah of Jordan is playing a substantial role as asked by President Bush in facilitating the meeting,


Abu Mazen's priorities are the fulfillment of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement of last February among them the release of prisoners, return of the deportees and further withdrawals from Palestinian cities.


There will be other Palestinian demands, the dismantling of illegal outposts, the freeze of settlement expansions and to stop building the separation wall. Before Abu Mazen's other summit with President Bush, Sharon will respond to further release of prisoners, also the return of deportees from the incident at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, and withdrawing from additional Palestinians cities like Bethlehem and Jenin. There is also a possibility of an understanding over the crossing points with Egypt, but no more.


Issues like dismantling the illegal outposts, freeze on settlement expansion and the building of the wall will be left unanswered.


Also Abu Mazen and Sharon will not see eye to eye on the issue of disarming Palestinian armed groups (Hamas and Jihad), Abbas policy is to incorporate militants into the Palestinian security forces and encourage Hamas to become a political movement and to participate in the national elections.


Thus some progress will be made, but the major issues will remain unresolved, leaving a lot of ground for King Abdullah to bridge between Palestinians and Israelis, this will only take place after the summit of Abbas with President Bush. The major issue for the Bush-Abbas summit is how to revive the Roadmap plan and move from phase one which calls for dismantling the military infrastructure of armed groups and also calls for the dismantling of Israeli illegal outposts. Sharon and Abbas are unable to carry simultaneously these requirements, at this political juncture.


Qurei political future


PM Ahmed Qurei went to Amman for a medical check-up while the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) debated the future of his cabinet. Despite his absence, the PLC called on President Abbas to form a new cabinet within two weeks.


Qurei, his aides declared, is reluctant to form a new cabinet, and they announced his intention to run for the Legislative Council in January.


The alternative to Qurei is not Nabil Shaath as the press speculates on who will succeed Qurei. Nabil Shaath also intends to run for a seat in the PLC, that puts him in a comparable situation as Qurei, it is not practical to head a new cabinet for a very short period.


A caretaker cabinet is the only option that is practical for President Abbas to consider. The members of such a caretaker cabinet will have three major issues until they hand over their posts after the 25th of January 2006 national elections. They are brought to confront the major issue of upholding security, confronting lawlessness and establishing law and order. Additionally they have to rebuild the economy in Gaza and the West Bank with the help of the special Envoy James Wolfensohn and thirdly conduct the December 8 local elections for major cities in the West Bank and Gaza and the second national PLC elections in January 2006.


Such major tasks mean that possibly President Abbas would assume the post of President and Prime Minister for the next four months, until a new parliament (PLC) is elected, then nominates a new PM who will be able first to get majority support in the PLC and form a cabinet that will have the task of negotiating with Israel on final status issues, in addition to continuing the reform process, the implementation of the rule of law and reviving the economy.


It is apparent that Ahmed Qurei's continuity to head the cabinet is the least of the possibilities and options that face Mahmoud Abbas in order to comply to the will of the PLC. Abbas is left with the option of either heading the next cabinet or inviting a member of the Fatah Central Committee who is not running for the PLC to form the government succeeding Qurei's cabinet.




The wall around Jerusalem


The Israeli Jerusalem Studies Institute released a study about the wall surrounding East Jerusalem that indicates that at least 55,000 if not 90,000 East Jerusalemite Palestinians will be affected. The wall is built to keep the maximum of Palestinians out, from suburbs in Kufr Akab, Kalandia, el-Ram, Bir Nabala, Shufat refugee camp and Zuayem and other Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.


At the same time, it allows the settlements of Neve Yakov and Adam to link, and for Maale Adumim to link with Jerusalem, and the newly established Har Homa settlement to expand.


Demographically, it will keep almost a third of Palestinians holding blue ID's outside the wall and without much needed services in health, education and sanitation.


Already the school system in East Jerusalem is suffering from the existing portion of the wall. West Bank teachers are not allowed and are not being given permits to come to teach in their schools in East Jerusalem.


The students are facing major problems crossing into the city from beyond the wall to join their schools. In the next few months as the wall is being completed the Rosary Sisters, elementary and high school buildings will be on different sides of the wall to cause further grievances to teachers and students.


Temporarily this might provide some security, but in the long term it might backlash by causing Palestinians living inside the boundaries of the wall to become more violent, thus nullifying the purpose of building the wall.