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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 4 Volume 1

An interview with Ziad Abu Amr:
Alarm bells ringing

bitterlemons: How serious do you feel the breakdown of law and order we seem to be seeing around us is at the moment?

Abu Amr: I don't think this issue should be exaggerated. What has happened so far was easy to contain, for the time being. I think what happened was an alarm for the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians in general to take care of a large number of accumulating problems. It was a warning to people to turn their attention to tackling these problems before they explode in our faces once again, perhaps in a more serious way.

But I would not suggest that Palestinian society is on the verge of collapse. This is not the first time Palestinian society confronts this type of problem. There is the continuation of the Israeli occupation, military incursions and the siege, and despite all these problems, Palestinian society has demonstrated a great deal of resilience.

bitterlemons: You talk of this as a warning to the PA. A warning to do what?

Abu Amr: It's a warning that unless we turn our attention to fix the Palestinian order in its entirety, in terms of political, security, administrative, and legal reform, we may face problems similar to the ones that we have encountered recently, illustrated in the state of lawlessness and certain violations of the rule of law, even political violence, that resulted in confrontations and the burning of PA or security institutions, etc.

bitterlemons: Particularly from the international community you often hear the demand that the PA should assert itself to set its house in order. To what extent is this possible, while Israel continues its military incursion and checkpoints, etc?

Abu Amr: The Israeli measures against the Palestinian people and the Authority, and the siege on the Palestinian president, the restriction of movement and the continued incursions and assassinations, make it extremely difficult for people to focus on fixing their internal situation. However, there are things that are within reach and that could and should be done. Of course, nobody is demanding that the PA do things beyond its means, we understand this and the reason we want to fix our internal situation is because doing so will make the Palestinian people more immune vis-a-vis the Israeli aggression and the state of siege.

bitterlemons: Do you feel there is any significance in the news that the police will now be able to carry arms again?

Abu Amr: Well, the preliminary, modest and partial deployment of the Palestinian police force is significant from the political, psychological and security point of view, i.e., that the tools of law and order are back in Palestinian cities and villages. This is a good step, but I think the success of this depends very much on the Israelis, whether they will allow this modest step to succeed or not, whether they want to enable the Palestinian police to reassert itself, which also means a reassertion of the PA. It won't succeed unless the Israelis are serious in enabling them to undertake renewed responsibilities in maintaining law and order in the Palestinian areas.

bitterlemons: Isn't there a danger that the police will be seen as Israeli proxies?

Abu Amr: I don't think so. They will not receive orders from the Israelis. Of course the Israelis will impose a number of restrictions on the mandate, movement and work of the police, but these men will be receiving their orders from the Palestinian leadership.

bitterlemons: You mentioned judicial reform. How important is this and what exactly is needed? Are we talking about the ratification of the constitution, or where are we going from here?

Abu Amr: I think the reason we are seeing all these problems is because the separation of powers has not yet been established in the PA. If there was separation of powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary, and if there was independence of the judiciary, we wouldn't have seen these kinds of problems. That's why judiciary reform is necessary, to get a separation of powers and also in terms of having specific job descriptions for the people who work in the judiciary.

bitterlemons: And are you optimistic that such reform will take place in the near future?

Abu Amr: I'm not sure. This has been a standing problem for a long time and I have no reason to believe that it will be solved tomorrow. I hope it will, but I'm kind of skeptical.

bitterlemons: Yet you feel it is one the elements that need to be solved in order to avoid a repeat of recent events?

Abu Amr: Well, this is the mechanism to take care of the state of law and order and due process in our society. I think that without a reformed, effective and independent judiciary nothing can be fixed in the Palestinian situation and violations of the rule of law will continue. So this is one of the main pillars in reforming the Palestinian order.

Ziad Abu Amr is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for Gaza City and the head of the PLC's Political Committee.

Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It 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 11-08-2004



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