[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]
September 18, 2006
This Week in Palestine…behind the News with Hanna Siniora
National Unity Government Delayed
According to Nabil Amr, the media spokesperson of the presidency, Mahmoud Abbas decided to postpone the formations of the unity cabinet until his return from New York to attend the September session at the UN and to meet with President Bush and Dr. Rice.
Although a breakthrough has taken place on the European front, first by PM Blair declaring that if and when a national unity government is announced, such a cabinet will have dealings with the British government and the EU Foreign Minister during the weekend reiterated the same positions.
On the American and Israeli sides, Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, and Secretary Rice took a more hard line position and announced that the USA and Israel would not change their boycott and sanctions against any PA cabinet that does not accept the three preconditions set by the Quartet (1. recognise Israel 2. denounce and disarm terrorists 3. abide by PLO-Israel agreements).
The Hamas leadership has been ambivalent and unclear about these issues. PM Ismail Haniyeh often declared that the new national unity government will be based on the national reconciliation document (the amended version of the prisoners document) which according to his interpretation does not call for recognizing previous PLO-Israeli agreements but dealing with such agreements. These pronouncements and many more specific ones by various Hamas leaders have driven the Americans and the Israelis to doubt the usefulness of a national unity government and cause a setback into the efforts of President Abbas to move forward, abolish the sanctions and the boycott.
During Mahmoud Abbas meetings with Condi Rice and President Bush, he will emphasize that an implicit recognition of Israel will be the result of the formation of the coalition cabinet, and that Abbas letter to Haniyeh asking him to form the new cabinet will explicitly mention the three preconditions as set by the Quartet. Abbas will ask President Bush to deal with the new coalition according to deeds and not through speculation. President Abbas is working to stabilize the internal precarious security situation, recently a high ranking intelligence officer and four of his aides were assassinated in Gaza, Abbas priority is to prevent civil war and he wants Bush to recognize the seriousness of the situation in Gaza. Abbas also promised to pay all civil servants a full month salary before the onset of Ramadan next week.
Progress on the Shalit Case
Last week Noam Shalit held a press conference in East Jerusalem in front of the Arab Media, to appeal to the captors of his son Gilad to release him on the occasion of the Holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish New Year, both will start simultaneously next week. Noam Shalit did not announce what the local Israeli and Arab press has confirmed, that the captors of Gilad, as a humanitarian gesture they forwarded a hand written letter by Gilad to the Egyptian side, who in turn forwarded it to General Ofer Dekel, the man in charge of the Shalit case by the government of Israel. As a result, Egyptian-Palestinian-Israeli officials announced that serious progress has occurred; a Palestinian Egyptian channel has been authenticated that is willing to discuss the release of Shalit and an ensuing prisoner’s exchange will develop in stages. It is possible to expect that within the week Gilad Shalit will be handed to Egypt to trigger the process of exchange.
President Abbas and PM Haniyeh are involved and want progress to be made, that would allow the release of Palestinian ministers and legislators as the next step. Such development will result in reviving and fueling progress toward a national unity government.
Furor over the Pope
Pope Benedict XVI committed a grave error by using a quote from a 14th century Byzantine Caesar accusing Islam and the Prophet Mohammed of advocating violence. A scholar of the magnitude of the Pope should have never listened or used quotes by those who prepare his lectures. The best course to nip in the bud the mounting anger in the Moslem world is by apologizing explicitly, instead of allowing the issue to fester and grow as in the case of the Danish paper and the cartoons published in it.
Humans can make mistakes, although the teaching of the Catholic Church consider the Pope infallible, however, in this case, it is better sense to admit that it was poor judgment by his advisers and ghost writers and close the case right away.
Civil Servants Strike
When a national unity government was eminent, it was considered the means to end the civil servants strike who have been without salaries for seven months now. As the formation of the coalition will have to wait until after the return of President Abbas from the UN in New York. Civil servants are adamant on continuing the strike which has entered a third week until clear firm signs are evident that the crisis is over and that the PA is able to live up to its commitments and pay the civil servants their salaries on time.
A New Economic Actor in Telecommunications
The monopoly in the cellular field will end soon. The ministry of telecommunications announced that it has chosen a new consortium led by the National Global CO., a Kuwaiti owned firm based in UAE as the winner of the bid to establish a second cellular company in Palestine. National Global Co. had the highest bid, 355 m dollars to establish a rival cellular telecommunication company to Jawwal the sole operator until now. National Global will own 40% of the consortium, the Palestinian Investment Authority 30% and the remaining 30% will be open to subscription by the public.
This is the first important new investment in the Palestinian economy. If the crisis caused by the isolation and the sanctions of the present Hamas cabinet are lifted, the economy will start the rebuilding process. The main obstacles up to now are the more than 400 military checkpoints and the closure of major passageways like Rafah and Karni.
The release of Shalit, the release of prisoners and the formation of a national unity government will allow the economy to revive and regain a great portion of the losses of the past six years.
Mr. Hanna Siniora is the Palestinian Co-CEO of IPCRI – the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information www.ipcri.org