Following Text prepared by from notes from an Interview with Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi in Gaza May 12, 2001. Dr. Abdul Shafi is a director of the Red Crescent, founder of the Movement for Building Democracy, and was chief negotiator for the Palestinian side at Madrid. He is a senior statesman widely and highly respected by the people for his integrity. Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi’s main points are paraphrased here:
“The first thing we Palestinians must do, the paramount thing, and without this all our other efforts are wasted, is to put our own house in order. This means democracy.
The Palestinian side has enormous potential, but this goes unused, wasted, because of poor organization. Without democracy we will never have a properly functioning organization. What we have is a clear dictatorship, one-man rule, a one-party system.
This means our efforts are disorganized. The rage of the Intifada is not channeled in a constructive way. Isolated and random acts of resistance are exploited by the Zionists, militarily and in the media. Disorganized violence only gives Israel an excuse to take more damaging actions against our territory.
The existing democratic framework is not being respected on our side. I have been calling for elections, local council elections which the PA promised, but they did not keep the promise. The time limit for the National Council expired in September 1999. So the PA has no legal status. It is the council that elected Mr. Arafat as chairman. This council has both legislative and executive powers. Maybe they don’t want to have new elections, so the circle around Arafat can continue exploiting their position for personal benefits? It is like in other Arab dictatorships.
The Intifada was not organized by the PA. It was a spontaneous reaction against the occupation. The people are saying, we have rights and we are not giving them up. Israel has not respected the frame of reference that was established for the peace process. The Palestinians have not been given what they were promised. Instead, Zionism keeps pushing for Eretz Israel, and its main tool is force.
The Zionists will not give up as long as they see a chance to attain this goal. And until we get our own house in order, Israel just will not take seriously any actions by Palestinians.
As long as some Palestinians indulge in pointless violence, the Zionists will use this as a pretext to push harder for their goal of a Great Israel, from the sea to the Jordan.
I have been trying to get Chairman Arafat to approve the creation of a National Unity Authority, which would be a committee unifying the various political strands and factions on a common program. Very important is a joint policy about armed resistance. We must focus our fire on the illegal settlements é particularly new settlements. This is where we can stop the expansion of the Zionists, and where we are completely in our rights by international law, by the frame of reference, and supported by world public opinion. Instead we are disorganized, there is no policy. In one place the PA lets the Israelis build new settlements on Palestinian territory, elsewhere bombs are being set off against civilians within Israel, provoking a very bad reaction.
Until we have a National Unity Authority, that can build a participating consensus of the factions and delegate roles, it is impossible to coordinate efforts and focus our fire. Until we get our house in order, all of our tremendous potential is wasted a the Israeli will not be worried by us one bit, they will continue to have the upper hand completely.
Does this mean a man who is sick must first get well before he can fight? Yes, you could put it that way too. It means that until we get our house in order, it is no use to complain about what the Israelis are doing to us. Why would they stop, when we are making it easy for them?”
Mr. John-Paul Leonard is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)