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Reforming from Within
Hanan Ashrawi, Palestine
June 7, 2002
The current push for changes in the Palestinian political process is neither
new nor externally motivated. Rather, there is a call to implement a
home-grown, authentic programme of structural, legal and procedural reform which has been gathering steam in Palestinian society for years. Political reform must come from the Palestinians. Foreign interference will not help the process.
Average Palestinians have become increasingly frustrated with the repressive and extra-legal security services, and with the inept administration in the occupied territories. Throughout the deeply flawed Oslo process, many elected officials stood beyond the reach of their voting constituencies. These matters came to a head after the latest round of Israeli sieges. With much of Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah in ruins, Palestinians began asking: how was this allowed to happen? Where was the protection? Can things be put back together?
The only way to close the gap in confidence between Palestinians and their leaders is to overhaul the political process. A mere reshuffling of the deck will not do. Reform is also needed to strengthen international support and streamline domestic mechanisms for confronting the challenges raised by the ongoing occupation.
>Making constitutional changes in the middle of a war, or in the wake of the sort of physical destruction recently inflicted by the Israeli military,
will not be easy. Though Palestinian will is not broken, the civil infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority is in shambles. The World Bank conservatively estimates the damage of recent Israeli incursions throughout the West Bank at $361m. This is nothing compared to the suffering and loss of life.
New presidential, legislative council and municipal elections are needed
immediately and will require the registration of more than a million voters.
All mismanagement, abuse of authority and misuse of public funds must be
weeded out. The bloated cabinet should be trimmed to become efficient and
accountable. Four-year term limits should be imposed on security officials.
There must be equality before the law and a clear separation of powers.
The new draft legislation which would bar the president or the security
forces from interfering with judicial decisions—for example, keeping those
who have been ordered to be freed behind bars—is a step in the right
direction. The application of the new legislation would spell the end of the
state security courts, notorious for their lack of due process and
rapid-fire convictions. It would also require trials for those involved in
extrajudicial killings, including the murder of alleged collaborators.
The call for Palestinian political reform belongs only to the Palestinian
people, and it deserves sharp scepticism when made by others. In the hands
of the Israeli government the call for reform is both disingenuous and
self-serving. The intention is to appropriate grassroots frustrations in
order to undermine the credibility of larger Palestinian political demands.
The Israeli government also hopes to divert international criticism and
increase Palestinian factionalism in order to delay military withdrawal from
the occupied territories. Coming so soon after the war crimes committed in
Jenin and other Palestinian towns and camps, Ariel Sharon is the last person
to be advising others on democratic transition. More importantly, however,
Sharon has latched on to "reform" as a precondition for negotiations in
order to avoid anything that would foil his unilateral expansion plans.
Coming from the American government, the call for reform is generally
counterproductive. American involvement has been far from principled or
even-handed, and Palestinian trust of US influence is at an all-time low.
Historically, the US administration has been more than willing to turn a
blind eye to abuses within the Palestinian system so long as the Palestinian
Authority discharged its "security" obligations towards Israel and
maintained its commitment to the "process".
Civil society organisations and average citizens have presented the
Palestinian government with an invaluable opportunity to correct deep-seated problems. To succeed, the movement for fundamental change must be proactive and steered internally by and for the benefit of Palestinians. Otherwise, it will end up being reactive and forced externally for the benefit of others. Such neo-colonial interference can only backfire.
Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Ian
Urbina, associate editor of the Middle East Report in Washington, DC,
collaborated on the piece.
From The Guardian, June 7, 2002.