Palestinian Affairs: Distinguished members of government
In the new reality created by the formation of a Palestinian unity government, some PA ministers are 'kosher,' while others are terrorists who should be ostracized.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Earlier this week, Wasfi Kabaha, a Hamas minister in the new Palestinian Authority unity government, was banned by Israel from crossing the Allenby Bridge into Jordan.
At the same time, another member of the government, Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, who describes himself as an independent, was in Paris for talks with top French government officials on ways of channeling funds to the Palestinians and "reviving" the peace process.
Kabaha, who serves as minister of state in the new Hamas-led coalition, is not the first Hamas minister to be prohibited from traveling abroad. Education Minister Nasser Eddin Shaer was also stopped at the Allenby Bridge and forced to return to his home in Nablus.
These three examples illustrate the new reality that has been created in the aftermath of the formation of the unity government. According to the new reality, some of the PA ministers are "kosher" and fit to talk to, while others are just a bunch of terrorists who should be ostracized by the international community.
The European Union helped consolidate this reality when its leaders decided last week to deal only with non-Hamas members of the new government. In other words, the EU will decide who are the good guys and bad guys in the coalition.
So far, there appear to be three good guys - Finance Minister Salaam Fayad, Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti and, of course, Abu Amr. All three have already received invitations to visit European capitals.
The EU decision to classify the ministers has only increased tensions among the Palestinians. Both Hamas and Fatah were quick to deplore the decision as "discriminatory and stupid," warning that the move will not serve the cause of peace and stability in the region.
"This policy is totally unacceptable," said Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan. "Show me one case in the world where you have a similar case in which more than half of a cabinet is boycotted, while the remaining ministers are classified as good guys."
Radwan noted that the Europeans must be aware that any minister they deal with will eventually have to report to his boss, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. "A minister who returns home from Paris or Brussels will have to brief the cabinet on the outcome of his tour," he added. "We don't have more than one government in Palestine."
UNLIKE THE Hamas spokesman, however, many Palestinians do believe they actually have two governments - the real one headed by Haniyeh, and a shadow government controlled by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his top aides in Ramallah and Gaza City. In the eyes of the EU, Haniyeh's government is "half-good, half-bad," while the Abbas regime, which consists solely of Fatah, is entirely good.
A sign of the presence of the two governments was evident in the last Arab League summit in Riyadh. Abbas came at the head of a 27-member delegation, while Haniyeh was allowed to bring only seven of his friends.
On the political level, Abbas's office in Ramallah remains the only address for world leaders and dignitaries. Almost none of the PA cabinet ministers are invited to participate in these meetings, which take place on a daily basis. This week alone, Abbas received two distinguished guests - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Abbas also continues to dispatch his aides abroad for talks with various government officials.
On the financial level, the division of powers also remains unclear. Although Fayad is now finance minister, Abbas's office continues to deal with financial matters, such as paying salaries to civil servants. Abbas's close aides revealed this week that most of the EU and Arab donors have made it clear that they will continue to channel funds directly to his office.
With regards to the security situation in the PA-controlled areas, there appears to be no change since the new government came to power last month. Hamas's paramilitary "Executive Force" is still on the streets of the Gaza Strip, as are many armed groups and thugs belonging to various factions. Hamas announced recently that it has no plans to dismantle its 6,000 strong force.
Abbas's decision to appoint Muhammad Dahlan as PA national security adviser is also seen by many Palestinians as a recipe for continued tensions between Fatah and Hamas. Many senior Hamas officials have openly criticized the promotion, saying they would not allow Dahlan to play a major security role. The appointment is regarded as a severe blow to Interior Minister Hani Kawassmeh, who is formally in charge of the PA security forces.
"Dahlan is now the real interior minister because the Americans want it so," remarked a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip. "This is something we can't live with."
But as far as the man on the street is concerned, Hamas and Fatah can continue to fight each other as long as the international community resumes its financial aid. "As long as there are salaries at the end of the month, who cares about the power struggle?" commented a newspaper editor in Ramallah. "This week they started repairing the main Ramallah-Jerusalem highway with international aid, and this is a very encouraging sign. The project was frozen after Hamas came to power last year."
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