Khalida Jarrar sets her agenda for the PA opposition

"We have to respect ourselves. We have to respect the rule of law."

khalida jarrar 298.88 (photo credit: Shabtai Gold)
khalida jarrar 298.88
(photo credit: Shabtai Gold)
She belongs to a self-described revolutionary party, and indeed she wants a revolution. Everything is on her agenda: democratic reform, human rights, women's liberation, corruption. Khalida Jarrar was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council a year ago, as No. 3 on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's ticket. Her office in Ramallah, right off Manara Square, is sparsely decorated. There's a Palestinian flag in the corner, a small bookshelf near her desk and a few chairs for visitors. A red socialist banner hangs on her door. Before the election, she ran Addameer, which focuses on prisoners' human rights. It is no surprise that she is now the head of the Parliamentary Committee for Prisoners and Martyrs - "and their families," she stresses, speaking with The Jerusalem Post over the weekend. She monitors all issues relating to prisoners, including any exchange to involve the IDF's Cpl. Gilad Schalit, being held in the Gaza Strip. "We monitor all deals in relation to prisoners and try to push for improving their situation. For example, we need to change the standards for release, which are discriminatory" in favor of Fatah members, she says, referring to the conditions set during the Oslo years for releasing Palestinian prisoners. "We have set priorities, like those who have been imprisoned for long periods, or prisoners from the Golan Heights or 1948 Arabs [Israeli Arabs]," two groups that she says have been neglected by the Palestinian Authority. The PFLP's leader, Ahmad Sa'adat, is also imprisoned in Israel, and she certainly expects him to be released as part of any prisoner deal that includes Schalit. Yet she, the head of the Prisoners Committee, has no details on any such exchange, even after Hamas head Khaled Mashaal's recent visit to Egypt. Jarrar is also a head of the human rights monitoring panel in the PLC, which she complains "is still a weak committee." She is worried that its ability to effectively function might be weakened even further if the opposition shrinks. And her party is firmly in the opposition. Only the PFLP, with its three PLC deputies, has announced it won't join the planned Hamas-Fatah unity government. "But, if the opposition is organized, then the numbers don't matter," she says defiantly. "Independents and others will join us." She is used to being in the minority, as her plans for reform are far reaching. Take, for example, the rule of law. While many want to sweep under the rug the recent fighting between Hamas and Fatah, she wants to bring it all out in the open, into the courtroom. "We have to respect ourselves, respect the rule of law. We must investigate these crimes and bring the criminals to court," she pointedly states, rejecting out of hand the proposal from PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to designate all those killed in the clashes as "national martyrs." She is tired of the corruption and the politicized appointments. "We want equal opportunity employment for all Palestinians. Before, Fatah divided up the jobs, now it's Fatah and Hamas." While present in all PA offices, the problem is at its worst in the security forces, which are completely partisan. "We need reform in the security forces, depoliticization. We need the heads of the forces to be independents, and not from parties," she says. The judiciary also need to be addressed. She wants independent judges and an end to the death penalty. "The PFLP has a program for these reforms as well," Jarrar says, as she tries to clarify the differences between her party and the others. "We have a clear political agenda. We don't just say 'No' to one thing, we offer an alternative," and this is different than Hamas, for example, which no longer has a clear political line, she says. Her foreign policy is perfectly clear. She rejects the Oslo Accords and all the deals signed between the PLO and Israel during '90s. She is disappointed that Hamas is focusing on "staying in power" and says, "This is the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, to hang on to power and authority." Jarrar also rejects Bush's road map peace plan and "Israel's 14 point addendum" to that program. "How can we have a viable state within the 1967 borders, with the settlements and the wall?" she asks, while complaining about US control over the international community. "We support an alternative to the road map: an international conference to deal with a real peace process, but it cannot be headed by the US," she says. Still, it is quite possible she faces her biggest obstacle when it comes to women's rights. "We need a change in the Family Law so marriage isn't based on religious rule anymore, a civil marriage law. But now it is hard, because Hamas is a religious party, and Fatah [members] are still traditionalists." She therefore has set short-term goals to help women move toward equality. "We need to end discriminatory laws, like when it comes to 'honor killings' and then men get a minimal punishment. But it is a crime, and should be treated like any other crime." Hamas, she says, has agreed to enact changes to the law. She has achieved one small victory, she says. Women are now able to keep their maiden names after marriage. Domestic violence is another issue that troubles her. She is working on laws to protect women and last week she met with the director of the PA police to make it easier for women to complain against abusers. If this is the face of the Palestinian parliamentary opposition under a unity government, maybe the next legislative session will be more vocal, more intense and more reform focused.