Jul 20 2004

It’s time for reform

Published by at 2:39 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

Like many other Palestinians, I was glad to hear the news that Ghazi Jabali, director of the Palestinian police, was fired on Saturday. I never met the man, but I did speak to him by phone, and it was not a pleasant conversation. He wanted to talk to me as I was being released in 1997 after seven days of detention in a Palestinian police lockup.

I had been jailed in Ramallah without charge and without any explanation. My imprisonment, which no doubt had been ordered by senior Palestinian political leaders, was carried out after the television station that I run broadcast an unedited version of a session of the Palestinian Legislative Council dealing with corruption.

Mr. Jabali didn’t explain why I was held for a week without due process. He didn’t apologize for my unjust detention. All he wanted to tell me was that I should not talk to the press. Once I was released, I did talk to the press and insisted that the people had the right to hear what their elected representatives had to say, especially when it came to issues such as corruption.

The head of the Palestinian police was not only enforcing the will of the politicians and disregarding due process, but he was also trying to cover up his own corrupt practices by trying to muzzle the media and the right of free expression. I have spoken to many since who have told me other stories about the failure of the police chief to meet their expectations on both the professional and the personal level.

My happiness about the removal of Mr. Jabali, however, was short-lived, as his replacement as overall head of Palestinian security was none other than Moussa Arafat, a cousin of Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat. As head of military intelligence for several years, Moussa Arafat was abhorred by many of the young Fatah cadres who had been active in the occupied territories years before Yasser Arafat and his accomplices returned from exile in 1994. Among other things, these young activists accused Moussa Arafat of undermining their work and even breaking into their offices. For a while, the man stayed away from the public eye because of a number of attempts on his life.

So violent was the weekend response to his appointment that, by the end of the day yesterday, Yasser Arafat had reassigned his cousin to the post only of Gaza security chief, and another Arafat crony, Abdel Razek al-Majeida, was made overall head of Palestinian security in Gaza and the West Bank. Even so, for Moussa Arafat to resurface in Gaza as one of the top three heads of Palestinian security is seen by the new generation of Fatah leaders as scandalous and reflective of a decision to correct one mistake with an even worse mistake.

Of course, the issue goes further than one appointment. It goes to the very issue of how decisions are made in the Palestinian leadership today. While Yasser Arafat is known to have numerous meetings at all levels, it is also known that he keeps important decisions to himself and doesn’t share in the decision-making with the government, the legislative branch or even many in his own Fatah party.

The key body is Fatah. This ruling party has not had internal elections for years. The general assembly that is supposed to elect the 100-strong revolutionary council and the 20-person central committee has not met since the 1980s. Since its foundation, the general assembly has met only five times. Marwan Barghouti, an activist from Ramallah now jailed by the Israelis, was trying hard to organize local elections in the Palestinian territories in order to prepare elected representatives to the sixth general assembly meeting. His arrest cut short this effort and left the arena open for the kind of internal power struggle we are seeing today.

In the past, some of Fatah’s founding members, such as Khalil al-Wazir (also known as Abu Jihad), Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad) and Khaled Hassan, acted as checks and balances within the movement and were often credited with putting a stop to some of the unpopular decisions by the party leader. The demise of these three men (the first assassinated by Israel, the second murdered by the Abu Nidal group and the third felled by natural causes) has left the Fatah movement without any strong leaders who can prevent disastrous decisions such as the appointment of Moussa Arafat.

Of course, the long-term house arrest of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and his inability to meet Palestinian leaders from Gaza has meant that many of Mr. Arafat’s decisions are based on secondhand information, something that certainly has contributed to the chaos we are now witnessing. As well, the turbulent relationship between Mr. Arafat and Mohammed Dahlan, the former Palestinian security minister whom Mr. Arafat removed for criticizing his slow pace of reform, must also have added to the current situation. Activists loyal to Mr. Dahlan are believed to have been behind many of the strongest protests against Moussa Arafat on the weekend.

But none of this hides the fact it’s time that Fatah, the Palestinians’ ruling party, put its house in order. It badly needs a mechanism by which the people can have a say in their own government. It needs a more equitable approach to power-sharing, and it must have a check on one-man rule. If the party that has brought the Palestinians to the verge of statehood fails to do that, it will find itself completely out of synch with its own people.


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