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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 4 Volume 1

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What did you do today, to promote peace?

Economic problems and crippled security
by Ghassan Khatib

In spite of the fact that the current upheaval enveloping the Palestinian political regime seems to reflect a failure to enforce law and order, there are other deep roots of the situation. The crisis is, in fact, a repetition of other, similar crises that took place eight months ago after the resignation of then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

This predicament has both political and economic causes. The political cause is simply a result of differences among components of the Palestinian elite on how to respond to the possible political developments resulting from Israel's unilateral disengagement project. The mainstream of the Palestinian leadership is cautious vis-a-vis this project and wants to avoid neutralizing the Gaza Strip and disengaging it from the West Bank. Others seem to feel differently and for that reason may be trying to create instability in order to weaken the leadership and Authority.

Because of the fragile situation caused by economic difficulties to which the Palestinian people and Authority have been subject, creating instability in the Palestinian Authority is relatively easy. Unemployment, which has ranged from one-third to one-half of the Palestinian labor force during this intifada, has increased poverty to two-thirds of the Palestinian people and leaves the Palestinian Authority and government very vulnerable to criticisms and complaints by the public. In addition, Israel's systematic efforts to reoccupy the Palestinian territories, by--among other things--crippling the Palestinian security forces in order to blame them for not fulfilling their obligations, has also made the Palestinian Authority fragile vis-a-vis the Palestinian people and different political groups.

Against this backdrop of weakness, which was caused intentionally by Israel, the developments in Gaza can be better understood. In this context, it becomes relatively easy for any group or political element to cause instability, especially in Gaza. The Gaza kidnappings happened in the course of Israel's attempt to pressure the Palestinian political leadership to be more cooperative with the political proposals that it is unilaterally presenting.

The members of the Palestinian cabinet, and particularly Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala), find themselves in an awkward situation, as explained in his letter of resignation. The first concern is the inability to deal with the economic crisis and the public's continued blaming of the Palestinian cabinet for not being able to solve the economic problems, especially unemployment. What aggravates this problem is the decline in financial support coming from Arab and international donors to the Palestinian Authority. The second concern is the inability to enforce law and order, and the third is the political deadlock with Israel.

In spite of the seriousness of this crisis, it is a manageable crisis that can be contained by the different Palestinian groups and tendencies within the framework of the Palestinian political leadership. How can we be so sure? Simply because the Israeli offers creating these different reactions are not generous enough to justify this internal division.

Published 19/7/2004©bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of labor and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

Unstable governments

  • Disengagement and democracy
    by Yossi Alpher
    The obvious connection between the two governmental crises is the advent of Sharon's disengagement plan.
  • No longstanding partnership
    a conversation with Ephraim Sneh
    For the first time, Palestinians responded in a Zionist way: what you give, we take.
  • Deep reform needed, not resignation
    a conversation with Bassam Salahi
    There are many issues of corruption in addition to the main issue of how to stop Israeli aggression and the wall.

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 27-02-2004



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