Perhaps one should not put too much weight to the off the cuff remarks made by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat during his speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council, but its importance should not be overlooked either.
When he came to the paragraph about the independence of the executive, legislative and judicial powers, Arafat diverted from the prepared text. He told the legislatures assembled in his bunker words to the effect that they would do him a favor by reliving him from this awesome responsibility if they were not happy with the way he has been handling his executive powers.
The hint of resignation certainly attempts to fend off the anger of the Palestinian public with his handling of his leadership role. The nearly two years of Al Aqsa Intifada has cause major setback to Palestinian life, economy and sense of direction.
But the power of such a hint is not solely intended on the angry representatives of the Palestinian people but it goes further to the Israelis and the Americans. While the Americans have called for changes in the Palestinian leadership, Israel has not left a derogatory term that they have not applied to the Palestinian president. Israeli tanks which were poised a few hundred meters outside Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters have turned the Palestinian leader into a prisoner in his own office. They have bombed, shelled, blown up and destroyed every symbol of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian police men, most of them uninvolved in the resistance to the Israelis have been killed (at times point blank) simple because of the uniform of the Palestinian National Authority which they were wearing.
Yet despite the rhetoric and the anti PNA violence, the Israelis have not attempted to harm the Palestinian leader. They have called him irrelevant yet they are closely watching him, somehow with the hope of reengaging with him at a later date. For the Israelis, it seems that what they are waiting for is for Arafat to declare surrender or to show clear signs of accepting Israeli dictates.
In the meanwhile the Israelis are present in every Palestinian city, town or village. Their troops are able to enter any Palestinian local upon their whim without even the lip service rejection that the US was showing a few months. At one time President Bush declared firmly that Israel must withdraw from Palestinian territories, now even this demand has disappeared from the White House daily briefings.
The problem is that the Palestinian Authority has not been able to cause the Israelis to pay the logical price for their reoccupation. They are holding three million Palestinians virtually in a large prison. They apply day long curfews when they want, lift it when they choose. Yet they are not taking any responsibility for the day to day lives of Palestinians even while they are ruining it. As the Israeli journalists Danny Rubenstein said, the Israelis are having the cake and eating it too. They are occupying without having to pay the cost of such occupation.
The price of occupation must be financial, moral and political. An occupier is obliged by International law to provide for the people under its occupation. They must pay teachers and other public servants and allow the people under its military rule a normal productive economic life. The full price of occupation should be that Israel take responsibility for security matters. Since they occupy all areas, they can’t blame any recognized Palestinian counterpart for what happens on the security field. And the moral price of occupation is the evil it reflects on the state of Israel as a 21 century power that holds a population against their will using tanks and helicopters.
What is saving Israel from having to pay this price of occupation is the presence of remnants of the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat is Ramallah. The Israelis can use this fig leave to avoid doing anything (except havoc) in the reoccupied Palestinian areas. What is ironic is that this is taking place at the same time that Israel’s prime minister is rejecting the Oslo Accords and all the agreements signed with the PLO since (which gave birth to the PNA).
The Palestinian leadership must not allow this status quo to continue. If the Israeli troops are not willing to withdraw, Israel has to pay a higher price for its reoccupation. The only way that this price will be paid is for the Palestinian leadership to have to courage to take the political offensive and to give the Israeli and the international community an ultimatum.
It is not enough to hint at resignation. The Palestinian leader must force the choice on Israel and to the International community. Israel must either to withdraw in order for the PNA to be able to work properly or the PNA, including its president will resign. If the Israelis will be forced to take full responsibility, they will be further exposed as a brutal, anti democratic and anti peace regime that is only interested in Palestinian land.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.