[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


September 10, 2006


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



National Unity Government


Dr.Ghazi Hamad, the official spokesperson for Ismail Haniyyeh reiterated that the PA cabinet and the Hamas movement are serious in ongoing talks with Fateh and all the other parties, in order to come to an agreement on a common political platform that will set the guidelines for the National Unity government. Dr. Hamad was emphatic that the present cabinet will not resign despite a concerted effort to force it toward that end, the cabinet will only resign if the PLC-Palestinian Legislative Council-withdraws its confidence. The Hamas movement, despite the arrest of Hamas PLC members and ministers still commands a majority in the PLC.


Fateh activist PLC member Nabil Amer in a recent op-ed article promoted the formation of a government of technocrats that would deal with the day to day issues, promote development and cater to domestic issues. Hamas as a movement will keep control of such a government and has the ability to question and direct its work, and fire it if it feels uncomfortable with its intentions and direction. Hamas would be relieved from the international boycott, buy time to deal with it, and concentrate on its social agenda. Hamas will relieve itself from the pressure of the unpaid civil servants and work to implement the reforms for good governance. Most local analysts are skeptical and believe Hamas is procrastinating to buy time to build roots and entrench Hamas in power. Many call on Abbas to demonstrate firmness and take the reins of power in his hands and dismiss the Hamas cabinet. Such steps have to take place soon, before the holy month of Ramadan begins on the 23 of September 2006.


The On Going Strike


Governmental employees, who have not received full salaries for the past six months, have entered the second week of a nationwide strike, demanding payment of missing salaries. Hamas and Fateh are at opposite poles. The Hamas movement is accusing Fateh of backing the strike in order to undermine the Hamas cabinet. Each side is deploying all their efforts to promote or break the strike. So far, popular support is overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the strike.

Some feel that, Abbas and Fateh are behind those efforts. The main victims are the Palestinian youths who are unable to receive a proper education. The formation of a unity government would end the strike, if not, efforts are being made to exclude the educational sector from the strike, ignorance is the greatest enemy of the people, many of our present leaders graduated from the leadership of the first Intifada that lasted almost a decade 1987-1996 and that played havoc with the Palestinian education system.

Hamas accuses those who participate as collaborating with the enemy, with the toppling of the Hamas cabinet as the main target of their campaign. Fateh and the others who support the strike call it a basic human right that should be supported and respected, and that might force Hamas to change its political program.



Tony Blair in Israel-Palestine


Civil Society organizations called on Mahmoud Abbas to boycott the visit of PM Tony Blair. Blair is being accused of aiding and abetting the Bush administration policies in the Middle East, and with blind support for Israeli policies in the PA. President Abbas, despite that, received Tony Blair in Ramallah and endorsed and supported the Road Map process. Neither leader hinted on how to brake the dead-lock that the first phase of the process that calls on both sides to deliver, on the Palestinian side, disarming the militias and enforcing law and order, on the Israeli side to freeze settlement growth and to dismantle more than one hundred illegal outposts.

Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert and Tony Blair reaffirmed their full support for the Road Map, but failed to suggest how to jump start an almost dead process. What is new here is that Olmert, may be for public consumption declared that he is ready to meet with President Abbas unconditionally, but neither submitted a date or the agenda of such a meeting. Blair could have called for a summit between Olmert and Abbas in the UK, in the presence of Bush and Blair, similar to Camp David II, in England and not the USA, during his waning days in office. Blair recently declared, to appease his labor party colleagues that he will leave office in a year’s time. Not much is expected from the visit as a result. Blair has the same problem on the next leg of his trip to Lebanon where Hizbollah has come out bluntly against the visit.


The Shalit Case


The local Israeli and Arab media declared that Egyptian efforts to mediate the release of Gilad Shalit, has reached a dead end again. Noam Shalit the father of the captured soldier is going to hold a press conference in East Jerusalem this coming Tuesday with the Arab and Palestinian media outlets in order to appeal to the Captors in Gaza the release of his son on the occasion of the incoming Holy month of Ramadan. Gazan sources revealed that Hamas is willing to discuss seriously an exchange of prisoners even the implementation of a negotiated ceasefire that will stop the Qassams and the targeted killing policies of the Israeli government. Some hinted that Egypt already got hard evidence that Gilad Shalit is well and alive and that the next step, to build confidence for the exchange process is possible with the assistance of Egypt is for Olmert to release the bodies of two Hamas militants who died in the gun battle at Kerem Shalom last June 25, 2006, that led to the capture of Shalit. May be this is true and for the first time on the Palestinian-Israeli front we can see the signs of movement.


The Health of Economy


The World Bank, UNRWA officials and various international sources has constantly declared the gravity of the continuous deterioration of the PA economy. Unemployment is rising over 50% in Gaza and over 30% in the West Bank. The tourism industry has slumped again, the war in Lebanon and the reoccupation of the Gaza strip has led to the drying up of tourists visiting Israel/Palestine. More than 400 checkpoints and the closure of Karni and Rafah, the two main passages into Gaza, has further undermined the economy, International sources predict that the Palestinian GDP will decline by a further 30% for the year 2006, and a recent study found 65% of Palestinian live under the poverty line.


No progress is expected on the economic front unless political talks are resumed with serious intentions for reconstruction. The long standing record indicates that expectations are for the worse and not for the better.



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