Despite New Cabinet and Government Agenda, Palestinians Still Expect Engagement with Israel

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Overview:

Despite its formation of a Hamas-only Cabinet and a 39-point government program that does not call for the destruction of or negotiations with Israel, 75 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas should engage Israel in peace negotiations. Arab leaders have called on Hamas to accept the Saudi Initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002, which calls for full Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdraw to the pre-1967 border. The initiative was shelved after it was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Hamas’ political bureau chief, Khalid Mashal, said his group expects the March 28-29 Arab Summit in Khartoum to outline the “extent of Arab aid to Hamas.” The diplomatic developments come at a time when humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory are rapidly deteriorating.

The Hamas Cabinet and Government Program

On 19 March 2006, Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh submitted the list of a 24-member Cabinet to Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas. The Cabinet, comprised of Hamas members, supporters and technocrats, has to secure the approval of the 18-member Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, comprised mainly of Fateh-affiliated officials and supporters. Hamas is not represented in the Executive Committee, whose members include representatives of the political groups that declined Hamas’ invitation to join a coalition government. The approved list will then go to the Hamas-dominated Palestinian legislature for a confidence vote.

Despite its consultations with them, Hamas failed to sell its political program to the parliamentary blocs of Fateh, Badil, the Third Way, Independent Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Hamas has accused the United States of pressuring the parties not to join its government. Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fateh bloc in the legislature, said Fateh decided not to join the government so that it can reorganize itself and hold a 15-year overdue sixth annual conference. Al-Ahmed added that Abbas wanted to give Hamas an opportunity to govern and that Hamas’ omission of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people was unacceptable. The clause regarding the PLO also kept the PFLP out of the Cabinet.

The Hamas’ Government Program (as translated from Arabic) pledges to:

  • 1). Remove the occupation and settlements and demolish the apartheid-separation Wall; establish an independent, fully sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital; and reject all partial solutions, dictated policies, and faits accomplis;
  • 2). Uphold Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return to their homes and properties, as an individual and general right on which there is no compromise;
  • 3). Work toward the release of prisoners; confront occupation policies such as assassinations, arrests, incursions, collective punishment, annexations, settlement expansion, and particularly the Judization of Jerusalem; and utilize the decision of the International Court of Justice regarding the Wall and its regimes;
  • 4). Uphold the belief that resistance in its various forms is a legitimate right of Palestinians to bring an end to the occupation and to secure their national rights;
  • 5). Cooperate with the international community to end the occupation, remove settlements, and withdraw completely from lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, to achieve calm and stability during this phase;
  • 6). Comprehensively reform the domestic policies, including fighting corruption, ending unemployment, and rebuilding society and public institutions based on democratic principles, which guarantee fairness, equality, inclusion, political pluralism, the rule of law, governmental system of checks and balances, an independent judiciary, and respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • 7). Rebuild the institutions on a foundation of democracy, professionalism, and nationalism–”not in accordance with party affiliations;
  • 8). Abide by the March 2005 agreement reached by the various Palestinian political parties regarding the PLO;
  • 9). Work with the signed agreements, with the highest sense of responsibility, guided by an obligation to protect the interest, rights, and principles of the Palestinian people;
  • 10). Work with international resolutions/decisions in a manner that protects the rights of the Palestinian people;
  • 11). Preserve Palestinians’ independent decision-making process;
  • 12). Work to revive the support of the Arab and Islamic world for Palestinians and their cause, given that we are Arab and Islamic;
  • 13). Establish positive, friendly, and balanced ties with Arab, Islamic and various other nations of the world and international institutions, based on mutual respect;
  • 14). Work toward a free link between the villages and towns of the West Bank and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; work for a permanent opening of the crossings with Egypt and Jordan; and work for the construction of the seaport and the reopening of the airport;
  • 15). Protect of democracy and strengthen the peaceful transition of power;
  • 16). Conclude municipal elections;
  • 17). Support the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem;
  • 18). Strengthen the rule of law;
  • 19). Guarantee personal, property, and national security;
  • 20). Reform of the judicial system’s independence and transparency;
  • 21). Protect personal and public freedoms, including the freedom of expression/opinion and the formation of political parties and the prohibition against political arrests;
  • 22). Build civil society and develop civic institutions;
  • 23). Conduct financial and administrative reform; strengthen the methods of accountability; and enact laws against mismanagement of public funds and for party affiliation-based employment;
  • 24). Develop all institutions that care for needs of the injured and for families of martyrs;
  • 25). Protect the Islamic and Christian Waqf (trust)
  • 26). Protect the poor, weak and those with special needs; and support the institutions that address these needs;
  • 27). Improve the standard of living, public services, and social, health and educational networks available to those in need;
  • 28). Develop an National Development Plan with special attention to human development;
  • 29). Protect the rights of women, children, youth and the family;
  • 30). Support youth organizations;
  • 31). Develop a national plan for alleviating poverty and unemployment;
  • 32). Work with the housing sector to find a solution for housing shortages and exorbitant costs;
  • 33). Strengthen the education sector and develop the educational institutions;
  • 34). Develop the health care sector on all levels through increased regional cooperation and cooperation with international organizations; and work for achieving self-sufficiency in the health care sector;
  • 35). Develop the agriculture, livestock and marine-life sectors; encourage exports; and assist local food industries;
  • 36). Develop the economic sector by encouraging investment, outlawing monopolies, protecting workers’ rights, increasing exports, and developing trade with the international community;
  • 37). Strengthen the role of cultural institutions;
  • 38). Support an independent media and protect journalists and the media; and
  • 39). Reactivate professional unions.

Palestinian Public Attitudes

A March 2006 poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that despite international pressure, threats and a breakdown in coalition talks, Hamas’ popularity has increased. However, a majority of Palestinians still want a continuation of peace talks and the implementation of the Road Map. The survey, conducted March 16-18, polled 1,270 Palestinians (3 percent margin of error).

The poll found that unemployment and poverty are major concerns for Palestinians. Forty-four percent polled believe it is the most serious problem confronting them today. Occupation was the second concern (25 percent), followed closely by corruption and lack of reform (24 percent).

Thirty-six percent of those polled believe Hamas’ victory was due to the public’s desire for a “clean Authority that will fight corruption.” Seven percent said they thought voters wanted an Authority that will resist the occupation. Fifty-two percent believe Fateh lost because voters wanted to “punish” the party for the “spread of corruption,” while 19 percent attributed Fateh’s loss to divisions with the party and lack of leadership. Only 5 percent said they believed Fateh lost because of a stalled peace process.

Confidence in Hamas Still Strong

According to the poll, 47 percent of respondents said they would vote for Hamas if the elections were held today, compared to 39 percent for Fateh. On elections day, 25 January 2006, the official percentages released by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission gave Hamas 44 percent and Fateh 41 percent of the vote.

While 68 percent believe that the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot survive without international aid and half of those polled expect aid to be terminated, a majority (78 percent) is confident that Hamas will find alternative “Arab and Islamic” sources of funding.

However, 75 percent want Hamas to engage Israel in negotiations; 64 percent say they support the peace process; and 53 percent want the newly-elected government to implement the Road Map. These three issues, which are main concerns for average Palestinians, remain absent from Hamas’ government program.

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