America must now use its clout to push for peace. But, says Hanan Ashrawi, a just and lasting agreement will also require profound Palestinian reform – from within

Any transition brings a degree of uncertainty and apprehension. But in this post-Arafat era, there are hopeful signs for both nation-building and peace-making.

Yasser Arafat’s larger-than-life personality had served for many years as a focal point for Palestinian unity as well as a historical reference point for authentic Palestinian identity. He was at once the source of centralized decision-making and the target of blame for the failure and inaction of others.

Arafat’s absence has robbed friend and foe alike of a convenient scapegoat who bore the brunt of their inadequacies and transgressions. Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, can no longer claim he lacks a “Palestinian partner” even though he had imprisoned that “absent” partner in the rubble of his compound, the Muqata’a.

US president George W Bush, in his second term, can no longer avoid engaging in the politics of peacemaking in the region, particularly following his foray into military adventurism in Iraq, with its disastrous consequences.

The absence of a credible US role and of a viable peace process has fuelled violence, extremism and fundamentalism. It has also enabled the Israeli occupation to create destructive facts on the ground (including illegal settlement activities and the horrific wall of separation and annexation), and licence to destroy the most fundamental requirements of peace (such as recognition of basic human rights).

Internal reforms
The Palestinian leadership, comprised primarily of traditional older-generation PLO members returned from exile, is being transformed; both the national political system and Fatah’s rationale are changing. If things go well, Fatah will embrace democracy and the younger generations will become empowered. But if the old guard continues to hold on to exclusive power and privilege, it will spell the movement’s demise.

To achieve good governance, security and a just peace will require a comprehensive reform programme for the Palestinian Authority (PA). Administrative, financial and personnel reform must be launched immediately in a public and transparent manner, with full accountability for all.

There must be full separation of powers to ensure the rule of law and professionalism in all public institutions – executive, judicial and legislative. Political patronage, cronyism, abuse of position, misuse of public funds and other forms of betrayal of the public trust must be publicly and actively combated to regain the confidence of Palestinians.

Arafat’s successor will not have the space and licence granted to Arafat, but will be subject to intense scrutiny. He will also be held accountable. Neither the prime minister nor the president of the PA can afford to perpetuate a centralized and personalized system of favours, self-interest and control.

The first test They, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership to a lesser degree, will be required to build efficient institutions, to act within the law, and to accept oversight and accountability. Regardless of the margin of victory in elections, all public officials will have to refer to their electorate for their mandate and legitimacy. The first test will be the reform of the security forces in order to deliver public order and security, as well as reform of the judiciary, to deliver justice and equality before the law.

Palestine’s political map will change, as factions begin to reassess their power and political agendas. Transforming factional politics into party systems is the first, essential step in establishing a pluralistic, multi-party inclusive democracy.

The Islamic opposition, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, will no longer be able to avoid the imperatives of democracy. They will have to participate in elections to gauge their power, to obtain their mandate and to accept accountability. They will no longer be able to claim that they are carrying out the wishes of the Palestinian people by pursuing violence and armed struggle as the only means of resistance. Similarly, left-wing factions, within and outside the PA, will also have to face up to their failure to gain a constituency.

Palestinians are fed up with rhetorical slogans, frozen clichés and empty pronouncements that don’t provide a handle on reality or delivering services and ensuring social justice. We must step away from the simplistic polarization of an inept, corrupt national power faced with an Islamic ideological opposition. A third-way movement is needed in the form of a bold, secular and forward-looking democratic coalition. It must also articulate a strategy for peace that can attract the three essential players – a Palestinian constituency, the Israeli public and the international community.

The new movement must respect the intelligence and moral fibre of its own people – and, for that matter, those of the rest of the world. Its engagement in internal and global realities must stem from its own conviction in the justice and integrity of the Palestinian cause on the one hand, and the need to restore its position at the heart of international legality and peacemaking on the other. Palestinian leaders must now make a real transition and form a bridge between past patterns of authority and future systems of governance.

International efforts
The success or failure of this transition, however, will be partly determined by the actions and policies of the Israeli occupation. Its racist and condescending attempts at placing the Palestinians on probation while demanding impossible preconditions for even entertaining the idea of re-engaging in negotiations will generate greater distrust and undermine any Palestinian peace effort.

Continuing policies of brutality, siege and fragmentation, settlement expansion, building the so called “security barrier”, assassination and abduction, military incursion and assault, demolition of homes and destruction of crops, along with other forms of gratuitous cruelty and humiliation, will destroy the chances of peace – along with the Palestinian peace partner. Israel must reconsider its dangerous policies, which have bred fear, hatred, violence and extremism. Lifting the siege and allowing Palestinians in the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) to carry out their elections freely and without threat or negative intervention is a positive first step.

Releasing political prisoners, particularly elected representatives including Marwan Barghouthi and Husam Khader, and PLO leaders such as Abdel Rahim Mallouh, will also be a sign of goodwill to the Palestinian people while helping to ensure stability and the credibility of a peaceful solution.

Furthermore, Israel will have to commit itself to engaging in substantive negotiations on all aspects, including permanent status issues, without any further procrastination or preconditions. It will have to cooperate with the Quartet (the representatives of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia), or any other international body, in implementing the Roadmap to Israeli-Palestine peace and achieving the end of the occupation and the two-state solution as soon as possible.

The political capital that Bush claims to have earned through his re-election must be spent on a viable and rapid peace process. Having committed itself to the Roadmap and to a two-state solution, the US cannot now afford to keep altering its policies to accommodate Israeli demands and priorities, including 14 reservations about the Roadmap or illegal paybacks demanded in return for Sharon’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

Cooperation with its Quartet partners, particularly the EU and the UN, will contribute to bridging the transatlantic divide and restoring some of America’s global and regional standing in the aftermath of its catastrophic war on Iraq.

If the US decides to play the role of the even-handed peacemaker and to curb Israeli excesses, it will have begun the real process of combating extremism and terrorism by addressing the grievances on which they thrive. Contrary to the neoconservative agenda, the path to democracy and development is through a just solution to the Palestinian question and a lasting Middle East peace.

America’s policy and priorities must have a broader political scope beyond the constraints of such projects as The Greater Middle East Initiative. The hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim public can be won not by glib public relations exercises, but by a serious reassessment of US policy on both the Palestinian question and the continuing cruelty and injustice of the Israeli occupation.

The solution has already gained a global consensus. All it needs now is a combination of political will, intellectual foresight and moral courage.

Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi is the founder and secretary-general of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the Jerusalem District.