The Magazine

Toward Democracy in Palestine?

Amir Taheri interviews Rawya Rashad Shawa, member from Gaza of the Palestinian National Council.

Nov 4, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 08 • By AMIR TAHERI
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Yes. The larger issues have to be dealt with in a new parliament and the new government that would emerge from it. In other words power has reverted to the people, who must now decide in fresh elections.

Can one hold meaningful elections under the present circumstances?

Sure. Some conditions must be present before we can have clean and fair elections. I think we need a six-month preparation period. The first step must be an Israeli military withdrawal from our cities and villages. Next we need a protection force. The Israelis say we threaten them. We say the Israelis are threatening us. A neutral interposition force could protect both of us in the period of the election. The entire exercise must be supervised by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations to make sure there is no cheating and doctoring of the results.

What if Arafat and his Fatah group win again?

I doubt that he can, provided there is a free and fair campaign in which the people can be informed of the issues and the choices on offer. What will Arafat campaign on? His record is there for all to see. As for his strategy, it simply does not exist. He is always hoping that someone will extricate him from a tight corner, that something good will happen. But hope is no strategy.

What about despair? Is that a strategy? What if Hamas wins?

No, despair is not a strategy either. As for the possibility of Hamas winning, my answer is: Why not? If the people so decide, we have to respect their view. At present, however, there is no such possibility because Hamas boycotts general elections, participating only in local elections. Local elections, of course, have been postponed since 1999 for fear that Hamas might win in 400 municipalities. What I am saying is that we need a national strategy, not the personal strategy of one man. And the only way to develop a national strategy is to inform the nation and then ask it to decide.

Would such a national strategy be based on the two-states principle?

Yes. In 1972 my late father [Rashad Shawa, former mayor of Gaza] proposed a confederation of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Since then, however, that option has virtually disappeared. The two-state solution has been accepted, at least in principle, by a majority of our people. The Israelis, of course, love to go around the world and spread the lie that we want to throw them into the sea, when it is they who are forcing us out of our homes.

Would the national strategy that you talk about be based on the so-called Clinton Plan as presented in Taba late in 2000?

The so-called Clinton Plan was a craftier version of the so-called Barak Plan. Much of it was window dressing, designed to confuse the Palestinians and then blame them for not wanting peace. I think that by rejecting the plan outright, Arafat acted childishly. He cast us in the role of villains and Barak, one of the most unprincipled of Israeli leaders, as a man of peace. He should have adopted a "yes-but" position, accepting the plan in principle but seeking further negotiations on aspects that we could not accept. Above all, he should have referred the whole thing to our parliament so that we could think together and decide together.

There are more than a dozen peace plans named after Arab, Israeli, and Western leaders, but none from Palestine. Does this mean you have no strategy?

Of course we have a strategy. As I have already mentioned, we accept the two-state formula. What is needed is negotiations on the modalities of achieving that goal with constant reference to key United Nations resolutions, notably 242 and 338. We have to agree on the status of East Jerusalem, which is a Palestinian city and must be the capital of a Palestinian state. We must also agree on borders and the sharing of waters. Last but not least, there is the question of the right of return.

Barak has said that accepting the right of return could produce a "flood" of Palestinian returnees who would change the nature of Israel as a Jewish state.

This is another sign of Barak's bad faith. The fact is that no state can reject the principle of the right of return because it is enshrined in international law and recognized by all states, including Israel. In other words, Israel is already committed by law to the right of return. Obviously, the time frame within which that right is exercised in practice and other modalities for such a major enterprise will have to be worked out through negotiations. The image of 4 or 5 million Palestinians suddenly appearing in Israel on the same day is nothing but a propaganda ploy designed to avoid a very serious and vital issue.

A top European Union official recently told us that the Palestinian Authority is one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Is that the case?