How has life in the West Bank changed since the Fatah/Hamas rupture?

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the national unity government’s collapse, as there had been aspirations for Palestinians to be united. The current division between Fatah and Hamas, including the ongoing media tit-for-tat, is demoralizing people and creating a negative climate. In addition, even though government employees in the West Bank are now receiving salaries (which had been cut off), the economic situation is becoming increasingly difficult due to high inflation and a general economic downturn. This too has a negative psychological impact. Add to this a lack of improvement in terms of Israeli measures, whether roadblocks, construction of the apartheid wall, or other constraints on freedom of movement. 

Are Palestinian Authority governing and security institutions undergoing reform?  What is the role of Quartet envoy Tony Blair?

The main problem in the security institutions is partisanship and factionalism; we have not yet seen any real reform to correct this. On the contrary, there is deepening pro-Hamas partisanship in the Gaza Strip and pro-Fatah factionalism in the West Bank; this applies not only to the security apparatuses but also other government ministries.  Consequently, there is a great need for reform. So far, with the exception of a number of employees who were pensioned off, we have not seen genuine reform that would lead these institutions to take on a civil, nonpartisan nature.

Tony Blair is tasked with rebuilding Palestinian institutions, but there’s a sense of déjà vu—we’ve been here so many times. Effective institutions cannot be built without removing the constraints of the occupation and the roadblocks. The security apparatus’s ability to do its job is very limited because of its inability to move freely; when security forces were deployed in Nablus, for example, the Israeli army stipulated that the Palestinians be responsible for security only during the daytime, while the Israeli army takes over at night.

Consequently, in my opinion, effective security institutions cannot be built unless three conditions are met: first, the number of security institutions and personnel within them have to be reduced; second, their redundancy and partisan nature need to be eliminated; and third, the state has to have sovereignty, meaning that there is an independent state firstly and after that a genuine security apparatus can be built. The idea that the Palestinian people under occupation can provide security for those occupying them has proved a failure. Reviving it now will only lead to more disappointment, because it is not objectively possible.

Is there still a chance for a negotiated two-state solution? What do you believe the planned Annapolis meeting can achieve? 

This depends on Israel. If the construction of the apartheid wall continues, settlements continue to expand, land annexation continues, carving up the West Bank (including cutting off the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank) continues, then what is actually happening is not the creation of a state but of isolated cantons. The occupation is turning into a type of apartheid regime, and this of course does not accord with building an independent Palestinian state.

I agree with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that there is a real danger of losing the chance for a two-state solution, mainly due to Israel’s unilateral actions. For Annapolis to constitute an opportunity and not just a disillusionment, three conditions need to be met: first, an immediate freeze of all Israeli settlement activities (which should not be too much to ask, as it is called for in Phase 1 of the Roadmap); second, that construction stop on the apartheid wall, which is a unilateral drawing of the border; and third, that Israel revoke its declaration of Gaza as hostile territory, which will lead to the irrevocable separation of Gaza from the West Bank and destroy one of the foundations of an independent Palestinian state. If these three conditions are met, this will open horizons for hope and peace.

Also, I want to stress that peace will not come unless there is a democratic Palestinian system that is accepted by all. Any reasonable person knows that just, permanent peace takes place between democracies and cannot be imposed by one side on the other. The European experience, and all experiences after World War II, confirm this. Protecting Palestinian democracy, rebuilding legislative, judicial and executive institutions, accepting the principle of political pluralism and the right to free elections, and respecting the choice of the Palestinian people are among the fundamental principles for a two-state solution.

Will a new infusion of international assistance to the Palestinian Authority help?

If there are not Israeli actions to ensure freedom of movement and dismantle the occupation, then the effect of new aid will be that of previous aid—a painkiller, no more and no less.

You have put forward an alternative to Hamas-Fatah polarization, heading the Independent Palestine list in 2005 elections. How has support for a third way changed in light of the ongoing conflict between Fatah and Hamas?

These movements have grown a lot, and their prospects are rising. Many Palestinians are exasperated with the polarization between Hamas and Fatah, and the silent majority is angry about this meaningless bloodshed. In addition, some in the silent majority who voted for Hamas have lost faith in it. They voted for the reform program that Hamas promised but saw that when Hamas took power it used the same methods that Fatah had used to build a political patronage structure. And even though Hamas has lost ground, Fatah has not advanced, because it failed to undertake radical reform within its ranks to address the reasons why many did not vote for it.

So I think that there are excellent opportunities for the moderate, democratic current that we are trying to represent. If it organizes itself well, this current can progress, not only because of the problems in Fatah and Hamas, but because a large segment of Palestinian society wants to support a democratic movement. 

As a leader of civil society for many years, how do you believe civil society in the West Bank and Gaza has changed and what challenges does it face now?

Palestinian civil society has grown and achieved a great deal, for example, holding democratic elections and promoting legislation such as the NGO law. The most immediate and dangerous challenge is the Fatah/Hamas rift and declaration of a state of emergency, which threaten to replace democracy with authoritarian regimes in Gaza and the West Bank that ignore the Basic Law and govern by decree. The second major challenge is for civil society to translate its strength into rejection of Hamas/Fatah polarization. Civil society should be part of a middle ground independent of the two movements, giving the Palestinian people an alternative and hope. The third challenge is for civil society to help people survive under conditions of brutal occupation, dire economic straits, and high living costs.

Salma Waheedi conducted this interview.  Paul Wulfsberg translated it from Arabic.