[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


September 4, 2006


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



Civil Servants Strike


165 000 civil servants went on an open ended strike Saturday, Sept 2, 2006, calling on the Hamas government to pay salaries that are due and have not been paid for the past six months. The organizers claimed that over 95% of civil servants have joined the strike. Dr. Ghazi Hamad, the spokesperson of the government announced that the PA cabinet shared the grievances of the civil servants but called the strike illegal. Hamas condemned the strike as an attempt by its foes (insinuating that the Fateh movement) is attempting to undermine the legally installed cabinet of PM Ismail Haniyyeh.


The School year in Palestine as a result did not open last Saturday and close to 1,500,000 students couldn’t start the school year in time. The health sector was also affected and only emergency cases were received in governmental hospitals. Most of the staff of the PA ministries joined the strike. All the post offices also joined the strike. Public life has come to a stand still and no prediction can be given on how long the strike will last.


National Unity Government


The past week saw serious consultations between President Mahmoud Abbas and PM Ismail Haniyyeh in Gaza over the formation of such a government. So far, no progress has been recorded by both parties. A common platform for the unity government continues to be elusive, although this political platform is based on the National Reconciliation document that Hamas and Fateh have signed. Nabil Abu Rdeineh, President Abbas official spokesperson announced that a unity cabinet will be formed in the next ten days. PM Haniyya claims that such prospects are in their early stages. Here we can see analogy similar to the situation in the statemated talks between the international community and Iran, Hamas keeps asking for more time to conclude the political basis that would allow a unity government to emerge.

President Abbas, by putting a date, the next two weeks to construct such a government is putting his credibility on the line if he fails. The Palestinian public is indicating by backing the civil servants strike, that empty promises to pay salaries are detrimental for Hamas staying in Power. Movement forward depends on Abbas forming a national emergency government if no agreement is reached between Hamas and Fateh soon.


Prisoners Exchange


For the first time since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Israeli authorities announced that it is ready to negotiate his release. Egypt, on the Palestinian front, emerges as the party,(the go between) the Israeli government and the abductors of the Israeli soldier. It seems that an exchange of prisoners is in the offing. On the Lebanese front similar developments are taking shape and in this case, the Germans are the facilitators. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal living in exile in Damascus is holding up the exchange, in an act of coordination with Hezbollah, but local Gaza Hamas leader deny that, and accuse the Israeli side of only recently showing interest in pushing the exchange forward.


Rebirth of the Arab Peace Plan


Egypt and Saudi Arabia are coordinating Arab efforts to ask the UN Security Council to come out with a SC resolution calling for an Arab Israeli regional comprehensive peace agreement between the 22 Arab countries and Israel. So far, important political figures in the Olmert government like Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni oppose such a development and even call it dangerous to Israel. Really, is having peace treaties with all the Arab countries dangerous to Israel. If such a development happens, movements like Hizbollah and Hamas will become marginal and would be no longer the source of any danger toward Israel. The truth is that no bones of contentions will be left for these movements if peace and normal relations are reached with the Arab world. Continued legitimatization of the conflict would no longer exist.


Olmert Political Future


The two main partners of the present Israeli government coalition are at logger head over the formation of an official or governmental commission of inquiry over the recent war with Lebanon.  Olmert wants a governmental commission that would not affect his political future, the labor party and specially the Defense Minister Peretz calls for an official commission with full authority headed by a member of the Israeli High Court. Conflicting division might lead to the break up of the coalition. Olmert, it is being reported in the Israeli press is seeking to include the United Torah party, and Lieberman’s party in the coalition, in anticipation of either ejecting or the withdrawal of the Labour party from the present coalition. These steps if taken will undermine for many years any efforts toward moving forward in the peace process. Actually, if this occurs, it would undermine Arab efforts for comprehensive peace with Israel, as the unilateral disengagement initiated by Ariel Sharon undermined international efforts to push forward the road map process. 


To accentuate my point of view, I would like to quote these paragraphs from Doron Rosunblum’s article: “Olmert’s fate, seems to be decided, and with more brutality than that of his predecessors. If he falls from power now, as a result of the waves of protest, Olmert and “his party” will become one of the more grotesque foot notes of Israeli political history. His sole slim chance of salvation lies in running forward and rising above his “Olmert ness”. For instance, the prime minister could show courage in advancing the vision of dividing the land; he could hold negotiations and make peace deals-including with Syria and Hamas- and take advantage of the unique political conjunction that exists today. 


Despite the atmosphere of eternal annexationist putsch with which the settlers threaten every “Israeli” prime minister-this time on the back of the reservists’ protest- Olmert still has a clear mandate from the voters for doing so. But is the man who has thus far not even bothered to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and who made it clear this week that he prefers to keep the Golan Heights without peace, capable of rising to that level? Or to any level?


Tell him, Adler (image consultant): if spin is needed, it is best if the spin is effective. If Olmert’s time is limited and he is destined to be a footnote, at least let him be mentioned in the footnote as someone who tried to make peace, and not as someone who failed in waging war.”


* The article “In the short time remaining” by Doron Rosenblum was published by Haaretz (English edition) Friday, Sept 1, 2006.




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