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As former British prime minister Tony Blair takes on his latest challenge as the envoy of the Quartet, there are a number of important challenges that he faces. Because of the restrictions on his ability to work on the larger political process, I am suggesting three challenges that are within his new job description. Two of these have to do solely with the Palestinians and one with the Israelis.
As his job description states, Blair is supposed to work on rebuilding Palestinian institutions. For most Palestinians the greatest problem in the past few years has been the absence of the rule of law. Rebuilding legal, judicial and local security institutions would be a major accomplishment for Palestinians. While the issue of occupation and lawlessness are often intertwined there is no doubt that there is much that can be done internally irrespective of the Israelis.
Without real law and order, it is impossible to expect people to continue to hope and dream of a future in freedom and without occupation. In the West Bank, the biggest problem is from the main stream Fatah organization and militants connected to them. Just to give an example of this lawlessness, masked men entered the Afaq local TV station in Nablus last Wednesday and shot up all the TV monitors because the station was broadcasting a news item which they felt was unfavorable to Fatah.
The media scene in general is worthy of some attention as well. Blair would do us a big favor if he can succeed in helping Palestinians reform the existing media structure. The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation which initially was created to be a truly public broadcaster has become a mouth piece of the Presidency of the PA (and more recently a representative of Fatah). At a time that Palestinians badly need a unifying instrument, Palestinian TV should be for all the people.
Blair will not have to go far in this area. If he can help create a BBC-like broadcasting medium, the Palestinian public would certainly be grateful. It would unify society and provide honest information to help people make important decisions.
PERHAPS THE biggest non-political challenge that Blair could tackle would be the issue of movement of people and goods. Irrespective of what will eventually happen in Rafah, there is no reason whatsoever that Palestinians and their products can not have the freedom within the West Bank as well as from the West Bank to Gaza and back. Movement across the bridge to Jordan should also be totally revamped, as the current system is not fit for human use.
Movement of people and goods can't be delayed any longer. The security excuse doesn't work here. Israel knows how to screen the tiniest pin from entering or leaving areas under its control. Therefore any delay in removing travel restrictions is intended as a political instrument to punish the population. Ever since Hamas's kidnapping of Gilad Schalit, the Israelis have implemented a system of punishment of the entire Palestinian population.
Within the West Bank there is no excuse for the continuation of the travel restrictions. The movement of people and goods must quickly return to the pre-September 2000 days. This means that Palestinian police should be re-posted on the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge and the existing checkpoints within the West Bank removed.
Movement of Palestinians in and out of Jerusalem has also been used to punish an entire nation. West Bank Palestinians of all walks and faiths should have a right to enter Jerusalem to see friends and relatives as well as to visit and pray at their mosque or church. No explanation by the Israelis can excuse this clear violation of Palestinian rights.
The challenges facing Palestinians are largely political and are based almost entirely on the continuation of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. If the international community is serious about an end to this unacceptable situation they must provide Blair with enough mandate to carry out the needed negotiations that will produce an end to occupation.
Anything less than that, while important, is only a stop gap solution.