Oct 06, 2005 -


Upcoming Event

After Gaza

Thursday, October 06 -
The Brookings Institution
Falk Auditorium

1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Rafiq Haydar al-Husseini, chief of Staff to Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) gave a presentation at the Saban Center on the measures that the Palestinian Authority has taken to promote an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Dr. Husseini said that the Palestinian people are at a crossroads, and that they may soon be able to realize the establishment of President George W. Bush’s vision of a viable, contiguous, and democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. However, this will only come to fruition through negotiations and peaceful means, an approach that he said has determined President Abbas’ strategy and recent actions.

Dr. Husseini outlined the key accomplishments of President Abbas, paying particular attention to those relating to democratic reform. He noted that President Abbas faces the unique challenge of establishing democratic, accountable institutions before an independent Palestinian state is set up. Dr. Husseini noted that the Palestinians were being asked to be democratic before they were granted self-determination. Despite this challenge, Abbas has implemented democratic reforms. Dr. Husseini cited as evidence of this the “election fever” in the Palestinian territories thanks to the recent municipal elections and the upcoming legislative elections.

Dr. Husseini detailed internal reforms that President Abbas has implemented, including those in the security, economic, and judicial sectors. Abbas negotiated a ceasefire with Hamas, a feat only previously accomplished when Abbas had been prime minister in 2003. In addition, Abbas has strengthened the Palestinian Authority’s security forces by retiring ineffective officials, defying warnings that such measures might lead to a coup d’état. With regards to economic reform, Abbas has promoted a single, transparent government financial accounting system and stopped government outlays to any source of dubious standing. As important, Dr. Husseini said, was that Abbas has improved the rule of law by encouraged parliament to pass legislation strengthening and reforming the independent judiciary.

Commenting on Israel’s recent disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Dr. Husseini said that disengagement was in the interests of Israelis and Palestinians alike. However, because Gaza Strip disengagement was unilateral, the United States had correctly implemented measures to ensure Israeli-Palestinian cooperation during the process. Dr. Husseini praised the work of both Lt. General William Ward and James Wolfensohn as unbiased and effective. Yet, despite strong Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, Dr. Husseini said that joint Israeli-Palestinian meetings had proven to be frustrating. Specifically, Israel did not, he said, coordinate with the Palestinian Authority when it ended its control of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. In addition, Israel has prevented the implementation of cross-border measures, such as the free movement of goods and people, which are vital for economic growth in the Gaza Strip.

Looking to the future, Dr. Husseini outlined internal and external steps that will be crucial to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

On the internal front, Dr. Husseini said that Abu Mazen will persist with democratic, security, and economic reforms. Dr. Husseini related a story to illustrate President Abbas’ leadership by example in conducting internal reforms—when Abbas learned that his private residence encroached on public land, he promptly demolished the wall of his house so that he was in compliance with the law. Similarly, Abbas has demanded that groups within Fateh disarm in order to gain the legitimacy to demand that other groups, such as Hamas, also relinquish their arms.

Dr. Husseini argued that there are two ways to resolve the problem of groups such as Hamas retaining their weapons in the run-up to the January 2006 legislative elections. The first method is to forcibly disarm them. The second method is to create strong public pressure on them to disarm. Dr. Husseini argued that the first option would create a civil war, which the Palestinian Authority would likely lose, owing to Hamas’ military strength. Consequently, Abbas has opted for the second option, a strategy that requires consistent effort, but that appears to be effective given his rising poll numbers.

Dr. Husseini argued that economic growth would play a crucial role in generating public pressure against Hamas. Pointing to the unemployment rate in Gaza, reckoned to be around 50 percent of the workforce, Dr. Husseini argued that job creation would demonstrate to Palestinians the tangible fruits of negotiation. According to Dr. Hussein, economic development would neutralize the message of the extremists.

In concluding his remarks, Dr. Husseini outlined the external measures that are necessary to set up a viable Palestinian state and Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. Specifically, Israel should release Palestinian prisoners, freeze settlement expansion, ease restrictions of movement in the West Bank, cease construction of the security fence within the Green Line (the ceasefire line established between Israel and Jordan in 1948-1949), and coordinate the operation of border crossings with the Palestinian Authority. Most importantly, however, he argued that Israel should begin laying the groundwork for a withdrawal from the West Bank. To combat the message of Hamas, Dr. Husseini argued that it is vital for Palestinians to see that negotiations can deliver progress, and that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip not be the last step that Israel takes. To this end, Dr. Husseini recommended immediate discussion of permanent status issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.