The creation of a prime minister position within the Palestinian Authority, and the appointment of Abu Mazen to that post, has stirred considerable debate among the Palestinians. Besides Abu Ammar’s hesitation to approve of this new measure, the opposition of some Palestinian leadership representatives results from a misreading of the current situation. Their comments do not change the fact that this new move represents an important step towards achieving the needed reform.
The fact is that the creation of this position is hardly a new issue for the Palestinians. It was claimed during the 1988 Algiers conference, when the Palestinian state was declared. The Democratic Front and a large number of other Palestinian groups were very enthusiastic about the idea. The issue also came up when Abu Ammar was elected ‘President of the State of Palestine,’ during the Central Committee meeting in Tunisia in April 1989. It was later raised when the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994. Moreover, the matter came under a heated debate last August, before turning into an international claim. But Abu Ammar objected to the idea, asking whether the appointment of a prime minister would end the Israeli aggression, or if it would ease the way for Sharon to carry out his designs of destroying the Palestinian Authority and imposing surrender upon the Palestinians.
While the opposition describes Abu Ammar’s response to the Quartet’s demands as submission to external pressures, this retreat should be viewed in its nationalistic context. It is well known that a prime minister for the Palestinian Authority is a demand made by the Palestinians themselves, before being a claim made by the U.S. or Israel. As for those who view Sharon’s welcoming of Abu Mazen as a justification to criticize the move, they should not be hasty is passing judgments. Sharon’s stance aims at undermining the role of Abu Mazen, as he is well aware that the latter will not accept anything less than the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the Palestinian territories of June 4 1967, and a just solution to the refugees’ issue.
There is no doubt that momentous tasks await Abu Mazen. The Authority is exhausted, its security institutions are destroyed, and the opposition continues to create confusion at a time when Israeli practices make its task even more complicated. I doubt that the European Union, the UN or Russia will be able to do anything useful in the near future to help Abu Mazen and his government, especially with the raging American-British war against Iraq.
Still, it is useless to rely on the welcome that the American administration gave to the appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister, even if he is invited to Washington and meets with President Bush. The American president has frozen the ‘roadmap,’ which is the only political plan for peace under discussion, and he did that to satisfy Sharon and the Israeli lobby, until the war on Iraq ends. Bush’s speech on March 15 about the roadmap changes nothing of that fact.
In any case, the only alternative that Abu Mazen’s government has is to start working with whatever powers it has, in accordance to national priorities. A close examination of the prevailing Palestinian condition reveals that the two most pressing issues are ensuring food and security. I don’t believe any of these two issues can be achieved, as long as a dual authority is maintained on the ground, and suicide operations persist against Israeli civilians. There is no doubt that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are able, through a few operations, to obstruct Abu Mazen’s efforts to achieve these two humanitarian objectives.
But it is important to note that by undermining the new government, there will be internal divisions among the Palestinians to a point of no return, which is in no one’s interest. Will the opposition give Abu Mazen and his government a chance?