Thursday, 29 November 2012

Palestinian statehood and need for continued reform

News has just come through on the vote at the UN recognising Palestine as a “non-member State” and Palestinians are celebrating the streets.  Several European states decided in the past few days not to oppose the vote that President Mahmoud Abbas has described as issuing "a birth certificate for the State of Palestine".
Leaders within the Palestinian Authority need to use this moment to press ahead with reconciliation and reform.  The Palestinian Authority is restricted in its ability to govern by the Israeli occupation and cannot be said to be truly sovereign even within the West Bank.  However even within the constraints imposed by occupation it must demonstrate its competence to represent diverse Palestinian interests well.  Over the past decade the Palestinian Authority has developed from a dysfunctional body with no popular mandate to an administration that shows an increasing capacity to deliver essential services, albeit highly dependent on outside donors and the willingness of the Government of Israel to pass aid funds on.  Currently corruption within the Palestinian Authority still remains a significant problem although some progress has been made.  

If the people of Palestine are to capitalise on their non-member State observer status at the UN, the Palestinian Authority must walk the walk that even UN “non-membership” implies and demonstrate to the world it is ready to move to full sovereignty.  The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights documents the abuse of basic rights in both the West Bank and Gaza.  These include; police violence (beatings etc), the use of torture by security services, the constraint on press freedom (particularly with respect to articles supportive of either Hamas or Fatah in the West Bank and in Gaza respectively) and the use of military courts without due legal process.  To be in compliance with the core values of the UN, Hamas must be unequivocal in its renouncement of attacks against civilians and show greater willingness to promote the path of non-violence.

There have been positive developments.  In October local elections were held in 92 of353 municipalities in the West Bank for the first time for 6 years.  But they were boycotted by Hamas who alleged threats, intimidation and arrests of potential candidates. 

At the UN, President Abbas is first and foremost asserting the rights of all Palestinians to self-determination but he is also appealing for the Palestinian Authority to be recognised as a body capable of managing the internal affairs of a future sovereign Palestinian state.  For this appeal to be taken seriously Fatah and Hamas must work on implementing the reconciliation agreement of May 2011 (and subsequent agreements since), achieve progress on human rights, accountability and transparency, and conduct free and fair elections.  This would, no doubt, result in further pressure on Israel to end the occupation.