Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: International Crisis Group (ICG)
28 September 2004




28 September 2004

Middle East Report No. 32


The Palestinian Authority (PA), indeed the Palestinian political system as a whole, face their most acute crisis since the Oslo process was launched eleven years ago. Palestinians need to put their house in order despite adverse circumstances precisely to overcome them. In doing so they should be supported by the international community and -- at a minimum -- not obstructed by Israel. A key element is the holding of elections, and a key to their success is a political environment in which Palestinians are persuaded by their leaders that they will be meaningful and by the international community that a negotiated and viable two-state settlement remains realistic.

Although the occupation and the confrontation with Israel that is entering its fifth year provide the context, the PA's current predicament is decidedly domestic. Recent power struggles, armed clashes, and demonstrations do not pit Palestinians against Israelis so much as Palestinians against each other; the chaos is a product not solely of Israel's policies, but of Palestinian ones as well. The political system is close to breaking point, paralysed and unable to make basic decisions on Palestinian objectives, how these can be achieved, and how to react to Prime Minister Sharon's planned Gaza "disengagement".

Besieged from without and divided from within, the PA is routinely said to face imminent disintegration or collapse. In fact, it has been in virtually continuous crisis since the uprising began in September 2000. Initially reluctant to continue governing in response to the escalating conflict, it has become increasingly unable to do so since Israel re-occupied the West Bank in 2002.

As fragmentation has intensified, a growing number of primarily local actors have stepped into the breach: mayors and governors, kinship networks, political groups, and armed militias. Some represent formal institutions devoted to upholding normal governance. Others seek to promote social stability on the basis of traditional allegiances and codes of conduct, or by enforcing discipline in the name of the national struggle. Increasingly, however, they are also vehicles for narrower interests, which have repeatedly brought them into competition and conflict with one another. The result is growing chaos throughout the West Bank.

The crisis is above all within the dominant Fatah movement. The struggles for power and position, armed clashes, increasingly disorderly militias, and growing crisis of authority and legitimacy emanate directly from its inability to establish internal order and unify its ranks -- and other Palestinian forces -- around a clear political vision and program.

Palestinians of all stripes and colours share today a growing consensus that business as usual is no longer a viable option if they are to forge a path to independent statehood, garner international support or, in the case of Fatah, regain the initiative against Islamist rivals and survive the inevitably approaching change of leadership.

There also is growing realisation that salvation will not come from outside and that Palestinians, irrespective of existing constraints, must seize the initiative. Their agenda is broadly similar to that tabled when the PA was established: construction of unified, effective and accountable national institutions, appointment of competent and credible officials, rule of law and good governance. In the context of the confrontation with Israel, it has been broadened to include formulation of a coherent political program, based on a national consensus, spelling out for Palestinians, Israelis and the international community alike the national movement's strategic objectives and the means of achieving them.

Increasing numbers add de-militarisation of the uprising to this agenda, with some arguing resort to arms under existing circumstances should never have been pursued, and others concluding that a national movement that for four years has been incapable of using armed force in a disciplined and coherent manner should dispense with it.

For any of this to get off the ground, Palestinian leaders must enjoy popular legitimacy and the capacity to make decisions. This necessitates long-overdue elections -- local, legislative, presidential, but also within the Fatah movement. As many Palestinians have concluded, elections are perhaps the only mechanism for resolving increasingly violent power struggles in an orderly fashion, integrating new leaderships and opposition factions into the Palestinian political fabric, forming a consensus on a political strategy and preparing the scene for Arafat to implement necessary reforms and his successors to lead a united national movement.

Some reasonably fear that elections under current circumstances would likely strengthen more radical elements and Hamas in particular. But the proper response to the crisis ought not be to postpone what is so germane to its resolution. Rather, it is for the international community to press Israel not to obstruct elections, to provide Palestinians with technical assistance and, most importantly, to create practical and political conditions that would boost Palestinian pragmatists. This means, in particular, fleshing out details of what a two-state solution would consist of.

With continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence and political inaction in the places that count most -- the PA, Israel, and the U.S. -- the odds against decisive action are high. But the alternative is growing chaos and mayhem in the West Bank. The costs to Palestinians are obvious. But these should be no less clear to Israelis seeking security and to an international community that watches with alarm as one conflict in the Middle East feeds upon another, and as a dangerous blend of desperation, rage and violence steadily takes hold.


To the Palestinian Authority:

1. Conclude preparations for credible local, legislative, and presidential elections, and consistent with existing commitments announce a definitive schedule for all these after the first round of municipal elections in December 2004.

2. Ensure that the Palestinian prime minister and cabinet are able to exercise their executive powers as stipulated in the Palestinian Basic Law of March 2003 without hindrance.

3. Consolidate Palestinian security forces in accordance with commitments already undertaken, and appoint national, regional, and local commanders untainted by corruption and committed to the enforcement of law and order.

4. Issue clear orders to halt violence against civilian targets and apprehend any violators.

5. Intensify internal dialogue to achieve agreement among all Palestinian political organisations and armed groups on strict adherence to a full and reciprocal cessation of hostilities.

6. Seek to curb the Al-Aqsa Brigades by:

(a) affording former members of the security forces who have since September 2000 become involved in the Al-Aqsa Brigades the opportunity to rejoin their former units if they sever their ties to the Brigades; and

(b) intensifying dialogue throughout the West Bank with local commanders of the Al-Aqsa Brigades to obtain their commitment to an immediate, full and reciprocal ceasefire and agree on conditions for the orderly demobilisation of their units.

To the Fatah Movement:

7. Conduct internal elections and promptly convene the Sixth Fatah General Congress.

8. Publicly condemn and seek to halt violence against civilians by Palestinian armed groups claiming affiliation with Fatah.

9. Publicly condemn acts of violence, murder, kidnapping, extortion, and other criminal activity that is claimed in the name of the Al-Aqsa Brigades and disassociate the Fatah movement from individuals and groups responsible for such acts.

10. Formulate and promote a clear political vision and program for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace that emphasises a two-state settlement achieved through negotiations and defines the parameters of a permanent status agreement.

To the Government of Israel:

11. Cease all military operations, particularly assassinations, armoured incursions into Palestinian cities, collective punishments, and restrictions on movement and economic activity that cannot be justified on grounds of legitimate self-defence.

12. Negotiate agreement with the PA to rescind the prohibition against the bearing of arms by the Palestinian police force.

13. Remove from the Israeli military's list of wanted individuals militants who, in agreement with the PA and subject to international verification, pledge to sever their involvement in armed activities.

14. Support the conduct of Palestinian local, legislative, and presidential elections, including by withdrawing from cities consistent with security concerns and permitting full participation by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

15. Adhere to the rigorous settlement freeze as defined by the roadmap and take all legislative and administrative steps necessary to enforce its implementation.

To the members of the Quartet (EU, Russian Federation, UN and U.S.) and the Wider International Community:

16. Provide a political environment more favourable to pragmatic Palestinians and for successful elections by:

(a) articulating detailed parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state permanent settlement; and

(b) pressing Israel and the PA to fulfil their respective Roadmap commitments, especially on halting violence and freezing settlement activity, and monitoring compliance.

17. Support Palestinian local, legislative, and presidential elections, mediate Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the conduct of such elections, provide technical assistance, and pledge to support their outcome.

18. Press for Israeli and Palestinian agreement on a package deal restoring Arafat's freedom of movement in return for specified and monitored steps to halt violence, restructure security forces, and respect the Basic Law of 2003.

19. Implement an emergency economic rehabilitation scheme for the occupied territories, targeting malnutrition, poverty, and unemployment and including proposals for the socio-economic rehabilitation of former militants and released prisoners.

To the Government of the United States:

20. Publicly reconfirm U.S. opposition to any unilateral action by either party that prejudges permanent status negotiations.

21. Reverse opposition to presidential elections in the occupied territories.

Amman/Brussels, 28 September 2004

Full Report (pdf* format - 478 KB)

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter