A New Government for the Palestinians

Article Summary
Hamas and Fatah have agreed on a national consensus government under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas; but the Palestinian President’s outdated political program should not be adopted by this new government, writes Hani al-Masri. Instead, the parties should establish a shared platform and solidify national unity prior to holding elections.

Abu Mazen’s [Mahmoud Abbas’] agreement to lead an interim national consensus government [of the Palestinians] is a surprising move, even though rumors that he would do so had previously been circulated.

[Abbas’ leadership over] this new government raises the following questions: What is [the government’s] program? What are its functions? Will it be accepted by the international community and Israel? If its mission is limited to preparing for upcoming elections and [overseeing reconstruction efforts] in the Gaza Strip, then will three months be enough to complete preparations for free and fair elections?

Elections will not solve [the Palestinian crisis]. [They cannot be] free and fair unless they are preceded by an agreement on a political program which takes into account the common concerns [of the Palestinian people]. Security services should be consolidated so that the elections can be monitored by unified national services, not by Hamas-affiliated security services in the Gaza Strip or Fatah-affiliated security services in the West Bank.

If, as is expected, the program of the government simply turns out to be that of President [Abbas], and if he was only appointed [as the head of a consensus government] to overcome the issue of recognition on behalf of the US, Israel and the international community, this raises another question: If Hamas does indeed agree on a government headed by the president, and adopts [Abbas’] program - in other words if it is indeed committed to the conditions set forth by the Quartet - then why doesn't it push for a different prime minister? That all of this authority and power be placed in the hands of one individual does not make sense - even for a short period - especially considering that President "Abu Mazen" was one of the proponents for [the creation of the post of prime minister]. [The position was originally] created to put an end to the monopoly of late President [Yasser Arafat] "Abu Ammar" within the presidency of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the [Palestinian] Authority (PA) and the government. Moreover, "Abu Mazen's" premiership contradicts with the reconciliation agreement that was signed by all [Palestinian] factions and national figures. [The agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in April 2011, led to] the formation of a government of independent technocrats as well as the holding of simultaneous elections for both the national and legislative councils and the presidency.

If Hamas is against participating in a government committed to the Quartet's conditions, as has been the case in past years, what would its response be if Israel, the US and the international community were to call on [Abbas’] government to reaffirm its commitment to the Quartet's conditions? And how will the parliament, in which "Hamas" has the majority of seats, give a vote of confidence to a government that is committed to these conditions, which are opposed by "Hamas," a large number of parties and most of the Palestinian people?

It is of the utmost importance that this new agreement include a political program which upholds the [Palestinian] national rights and goals and be based on international law and UN resolutions without necessarily being committed to the conditions set forth by the Quartet. This would pave the way for the renewal of a Palestinian political system on a new set of foundations. [This kind of agreement] also means that the Palestinians should prepare for a confrontation with Israel and the US - and perhaps European and international countries as well. In other words, [Palestinians] must prepare themselves for such a possibility without backing down from what has been agreed upon should the new government face boycott and rejection.

If the program of this new government is actually still [Abbas’] same program, only with a different face, then this government will walk down the same path it followed 20 years ago, which resulted in the deepening of the occupation, the expansion of the [Israeli] settlements, and a phase of walls and siege.

If this government proclaims that its number one task is simply to hold elections as soon as possible, it is dooming the elections to be conducted under divided political, legislative, security, civil and judicial institutions due to the presence of two conflicting authorities. This means that [the elections] will contribute to divisions [between Hamas and Fatah] and the sharing [of powers].

For the elections to be free and fair, they should take place only an end is put to these divisions, and only after national unity is restored on the basis of a political program. [They should take place] once the foundations of the supreme national interest are defined. Elections without national consensus will only result in stimulating intense competition among people still under occupation.

[The Palestinian people] should agree on a safety net in order to ensure free and fair elections, disrupt any [measures taken to subjugate them to further occupation] - before, during and after the elections - ensure freedom of running for the elections and the conducting of electoral campaigns. Moreover, legislation should be adopted enabling the parliamentary electoral lists to include names of people to serve as substitutes for detained MPs.

The formation of a new government must be preceded by an agreement with a clear starting point and end in mind. Moreover, divided institutions, and the security services in particular, must be unified. Complex problems must be solved, such as allowing the return of diligent but fired staff, opening closed institutions and providing public rights and freedoms while fighting against the forces that abuse them.

Given the difficulty of unifying security services, this task should be achieved gradually. As a first step, police and civil defense can be united within three to four months.  Internal security can subsequently be consolidated and then this process can continue. Techniques applied to [the unification of] security services can also be applied to all institutions.

In order to find solutions to the [issues plaguing the Palestinian people], [belligerent parties] should simultaneously adhere to the reconciliation agreement so that a government can be formed, given that in parallel the PLO is being re-established and elections for both the presidency and [Palestinian] councils are being prepared. The agreement should be literally applied, without engaging in procedural issues and neglecting core issues. The National Council should be re-established before holding elections, as stated in the Doha agreement, which supersedes the provisions in the Cairo Agreement [of 2011].

We have seen the results of the bilateral negotiations. They divided the Palestinian cause into various and separate issues, which are neither related to the land nor to the people. [They also] fragmented each case into smaller issues, easily leading us to a maze, from which we still have no figured out how to escape.  Therefore, any national agreement must be based on the will to pave a new road. Otherwise, failure is guaranteed.

If the necessary will to [prepare these elections] is available, the elections for the National Council could include at least seven million Palestinians. They could include Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza as well as the Palestinian communities of Arab countries, with the exception of Jordan, which includes around 1.25 million illegal Palestinian residents.  Palestinians in Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world could also participate in these elections [were there to be the necessary level of organization and enthusiasm].

Of course, the revival of the PLO and the unification of the Palestinian people is expected to spark a wave of opposition by Israel, the US, the international community and perhaps certain Arab parties. However, without unitin, the Palestinian people will not be able to take back their minimal national rights.

International outrage at the move could be soothed by continuing to comply with international law and UN resolutions in the government and the PLO’s political program. [Palestinians] should prove their willingness to respect the agreements that have been concluded between Israel and the PLO, as long as Israel does so as well. In other words, both parties must respect [these agreements, for progress to be made]. In fact, the theory of the one-side commitment aimed at embarrassing Israel and making it assume its responsibilities while leading the international community to put pressure on it, has been tried before and has failed.

Finally, I would like to conclude my article with an expression beautifully illustrated in Tahrir Square:

“Einstein's definition of mental disorder: ‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!’”

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