- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — With a new government finally in place after weeks of haggling, many Palestinians are asking whether it is time to write off eight years of self-rule as a failed experiment and go back to Israeli military rule.

The argument, heard on street corners and in government offices, holds that if the Israelis will not allow the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power, they should bear formal responsibility for the hardships of the Palestinian people.

“If the Palestinian Authority doesn’t figure out a way to remove the Israeli roadblocks, then it will have to draw its own conclusions,” said Palestinian legislator Kadoura Fares.

“We need to be honest and stand before our people and say that we’ve reached a dead end on the path [established by the 1993 Oslo accords].

“The Israelis are interested in continuing the occupation, so they should take all of the responsibility, and we won’t continue in this show,” the lawmaker said.

That conclusion enjoys surprisingly broad support among the Palestinian public, according to an opinion poll conducted in late October by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

A majority of respondents said they don’t feel the presence of the Palestinian Authority, and about 30 percent said it was in the Palestinian national interest to end self-rule because of the declining effectiveness of the government.

The sentiment also reflects growing public frustration over the standoff between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his prime minister.

Prime Minister Ahmed Queria’s confirmation ended more than a month of bickering with Mr. Arafat over the appointment of a security chief to oversee Palestinian forces.

That quarrel was preceded by a months-long row over the same issue with Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as prime minister in September.

The wrangling has distracted leaders from what Palestinians consider to be the most pressing issues on their agenda — restarting peace talks, negotiating a cease-fire and stopping Israel’s security barrier from slicing through the West Bank.

“Anyone with their eyes open and their brain on is going to ask what is going on here,” said a U.N. diplomat based in the West Bank. “While they’re talking, the wall is being built. It’s rather shocking.”

Dissolving the Palestinian Authority would eliminate the largest single employer of Palestinians, which provides more than 100,000 jobs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

That would shift responsibility for the economic and humanitarian problems of the Palestinians to Israel, requiring funds that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon doesn’t have and whipping up international criticism of the Jewish state.

Still, the restoration of Israeli military rule is viewed by many Palestinians as a step in the wrong direction.

“If after all of this devastation we still only have 15 percent control remaining, why should I give that up?” said Sam Bahour, the manager of a newly opened shopping mall in Ramallah. “Because in politics, there’s no vacuum. If you back out, then the occupation will take over. Then what?”


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