May 21 2004

Palestinian leadership’s mistrust is worrisome

Published by at 2:40 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Is the current Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in danger of facing a fate similar to that of his predecessor? It might be a pessimistic question, but some of the rumblings coming out of Palestinian National Authority headquarters, Muqataa, these days point to lack of trust, by some in the PNA after the results of the recent meetings Qureia had with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Anger in the Palestinian camp began with the Powell’s anti-Arafat statements, during his brief stay on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea. Powell was quoted as repeating the recent US position that favors changing the Palestinian leadership. This would have been tolerated had it not for the fact that Powell was meeting with Arafat’s prime minister. Before Powell’s statement, it was felt that the US might be slightly changing its calls for change of leadership when it agreed to high-level meetings with Qureia.

What further angered the Palestinian leadership was the absence of tangible results from the Qureia-Rice meetings in Berlin. Despite Qureia’s press statement after the meeting that it was positive, sources at the PNA headquarters insist that nothing of substance was delivered to the Palestinians. The continued house demolitions and large-scale killings in Rafah, despite Powell’s public criticism, shows that the Palestinian leadership was justified in feeling disappointed.

What worries the Palestinians is that the US administration is trying to use the meetings with Qureia to improve its relations with moderate Arab leaders. There is also worry that the Americans are playing the good cop-bad cop routine with the Palestinians. While Powell publicly criticizes the demolition of Palestinian houses in Rafah, the real position of the Bush administration, as expressed during the president’s address to AIPAC, was that Israel has a right to defend itself.

The feeling among some of the senior Palestinian leaders is that, presently, the Bush administration is either unwilling or unable to deliver anything of substance to the Palestinians. The looming US elections and George Bush’s need to woo some of the Jewish voters who normally vote for the Democrats could be behind this position. With key states like Florida (with a large Jewish population) again the focus of the coveted 25 electoral votes, every vote in this state can possibly decide the upcoming elections.

For better or worse, this situation puts Qureia in an unenviable position. If he meets with the top US leaders and gets nothing of substance, he gives the impression of playing into the hands of the Americans. On the other hand, if he refuses such meetings, he is giving up a strategically important opportunity.

What has made the situation more worrisome is the apparent lack of coordination and maybe a slight mistrust between Qureia and his Cabinet, on the one hand, and between President Yasser Arafat and some of his aides, on the other hand.

Arafat, for example, would have liked Qureia to publicly admonish Powell for his anti-Arafat statements during the World Economic Forum meetings at the Dead Sea. He would have also liked Qureia not to give the impression that his meetings with Rice were fruitful. Absent such a position, some in the PNA headquarters may start thinking that Qureia and his staff are cooking something with the Americans behind Arafat’s back. With such suspicion, they could start reading things in some of the public statements that might not have been intended.

There is no doubt that the undemocratic US position, of refusing to deal with an elected Arab leader, is a major cause of mistrust. What is worrisome, however, is that within the Arab and Palestinian circles, leaders are unable to see these dangers and have a higher degree of trust and confidence in themselves and in each other. Palestinian unity and Palestinian-Arab solidarity are the most powerful assets that Palestinians possess. These assets must not be weakened as a result of the hostile, anti-democratic US and Israeli positions.

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