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Learn the lessons

Saleh Abdel Jawad

"Too little, too late"--this expression has gained a new reputation in the last 40 days. Events in Tunisia and Egypt and other countries in the Arab world have confirmed the validity of the expression. Arab leaders like Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, eager to calm the protests against their rule, tried to give up minor concessions to the opposition. But it was, as we all know, too late.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
Compared with the tired "old guard" leadership (the leaders of Muslim, liberal and leftist parties including the Muslim Brotherhood), the "new guard" generation is not satisfied because it is seeking real change and not minor cosmetic reforms. This applies to the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that is nowadays experiencing--silently but steadily--the aftermath of the Mubarak regime earthquake.

The Palestinian cabinet's decision to hold municipal elections at the end of July of this year; the dissolution of Salam Fayyad's government ten days ago; the resignation of Saeb Erekat as chief Palestinian negotiator; and the PLO executive committee's decision to hold legislative and presidential elections by September 2011 are all part of maneuvers and a "strategy" meant to overcome and respond to the new situation in the Arab world and the al-Jazeera leaks scandal.

However, Mahmoud Abbas' and Salam Fayyad's strategy will not succeed--not only because it is "too little, too late"--but because it is irrelevant. First, all political Islamic parties and movements (Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizb al-Tahrir) oppose it. As a matter of fact, the opposition to holding legislative and presidential elections is unanimous among the factions save some Fateh circles (considered the "Power Party").

Political parties other than the political Islamists and independent forces without political affiliation (which make up more than 30 percent of the Palestinian political map) and observers consider holding an election before ending the division between Fateh and Hamas as an internalization and reinforcement of this division, which is not only between the two factions but also between Gaza and the West Bank, thus compromising if not ending the Palestinian state national project.

But there are other deeper concerns: all those who are not pro-Palestinian Authority, including the new young Facebook generation, consider elections an attempt by the PA to regain eroded legitimacy at a time when not only is it in question, but also the legitimacy of PLO institutions and the PLO's very capacity to lead the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The leaked documents by al-Jazeera promoted anger but also proved the uselessness of the negotiations process.

International and regional changes (the weakness of the United States, Israeli intransigence, the rise of the "rejection front", and the fall of the Mubarak regime as a main ally of the PA) are all weakening the PA and the current PLO leadership.

Only changes like the election of a new Palestinian National Council (the highest body in the PLO) would set new rules for the game. Ending the political division and rethinking the negotiations are considered a minimum offer to be accepted by the PA.

Most Palestinians today want to return to a situation in which Palestine is considered an entity under occupation, where the right of self-determination and the right to resist are guaranteed. Hard-liners are even announcing the demise of the PA.

This state of mind was strengthened by last week's US veto in the United Nations Security Council. People who thought that the US would reconsider its policies in the region after what happened to its allies know today that the US is crippled by its own internal politics and in the long run will harm its own interests. Unfortunately for Arab dictators, we also have a situation like that of Tunisia and Egypt: leaders incapable of facing the truth and learning the lessons.-Published 21/2/2011 © bitterlemons.org

Saleh Abdel Jawad is a political scientist and dean of the Faculty of Law and Public Administration at Birzeit University.
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