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Interview with Othman Abu Gharbiyyeh

by Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh

This interview is the last among 14 interviews discussing the role of the Palestinian opposition under the title The Palestinian Opposition Between the Negative Standstill and Positive Interaction . Approximately 45 Palestinian figures were interviewed as part of the project.

This interview will include four basic issues, which will be dealt with through clarification or questioning. The first issue deals with Fatah s evaluation of the current state of national dialogue and the organization s opinion regarding the current state of affairs.

With regard to the role of the opposition, Abu Gharbiyyeh believes that opposition in the current political system is indeed a basic element for rationalizing authority, especially in light of the existing political maturity. There is no doubt that the exchange of opinions between the Authority and the opposition is the result of social and political development, which will undoubtedly enhance the democratic performance. Democracy is established on two bases: justice as well as accountability, and freedom.

So far, there are no existing patterns in the world that are based on these two complementary principles. There are, however, two experiments. One involves popular democracies, which were established on the basis of full equality but did not respect any normsof freedom or the Western experiment. Democracy, even if it has shortcomings, is still more advanced than non-democratic practices. Basically, democracy is the thing that can ensure that authority is alternated.

Sometimes, the opposition displays a lack of maturity when it comes to understanding its role as an opposition. As for the Authority, it too displays immaturity, this time in regard to its performance as an authority. In order to overcome this, there is a need for traditions, awareness and sound political will. We need, therefore,a transitional period during which the foundations for the traditions of democratic action and the democratic concept can be established, and this is one of the main problems that we face as a people. Indeed, we are still passing through a special transitional stage as we continue to live under the hegemony of occupation in one way or another. Having said that, the existing harmony between the Authority and the opposition can be attributed to their both having as a goal the aim of achieving independence. This goal, however, should be based on the establishment of the independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Our joint commitment to this basic goal helps in solving a major part of our problem.

The second problem related to the current state of affairs is the dispersion of our people. There have been cases involving interference and meddling between the occupation authorities and us or between us and other parties when a certain regime or non-Palestinian authority has attempted to influence the opposition s opinion or the opinion of other political forces. This meddling has consequences that differ from those associated with a political organization sticking to its own stand. We cannot deal with the opposition whilst it is being influenced by non-Palestinian parties on the bases that regulate the relationship between the Authority and the opposition, the reason being that we cannot base such a relationship on nothing but good intentions.

There are some opposition members that interact positively, creatively and in a responsible way. Dialogue with the opposition is conducted through national frameworks and based on national rules, namely that no violent acts be involved, that the dialogue does not constitute a violation of the law, and that it is conducted along national frameworks, which makes things a lot easier.

Past restrictions and influences are still contributing to the state of hesitation and concern through which the authority and the opposition are passing. This fact does not help in creating a real and complementary opposition, nor does it contribute to creating the kind of performance that is complementary on the part of the Authority. There is no place for emotions or taking things lightly here because both would be at the expense of the national objectives.

The presence in the homeland of the Palestinian national forces reduces the possibility of their being affected by external influences. Taking part in the authority performance entails the cooperation of both parties. It isnot sufficient that the Authority extends its hands to the opposition. One should remember the success that was achieved when both the Popular Front (PFLP) and the Democratic Front (DFLP) - two opposing parties - participated in the meetings of the Central Council and the PLO Executive Committee. A formula for future action should be found in order to face the national challenges ahead of us.

Some remarks have been made concerning the performance of the Authority and certain negative practices. It is natural for the opposition to look for such mistakes, but its eagerness to find fault should not serve the purposes of other external parties. Policies should be based on two principles: one, eradicating the enemy, and two, furthering the cause of Palestinian national unity. No victory could ever be achieved if one or both of these principles were to be ignored.

With regard to the position of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin who does not approve of internal conflict, we believe that his is a sound position and one that will not prevent the achievement of the essential objective, namely, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. It is important that Hamas give the Authority sufficient opportunity to achieve the major goal, which we should all adopt as our own, i.e., the establishment of an independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital. Should the Authority fail to realize this goal, then we should be able to discuss the matter together.

With regard to the participation of Hamas in the municipal and NGO elections and its non-participation in the parliamentary elections and in the government, its position was well thought out and stems from the organization s political calculations. When competition is accepted in principle, then the results, no matter what they are, will be accepted.

The participation of all parties in the elections was not realized, and we were not able to show our diversity simply because the Palestinian experience is not yet complete.

With regard to the separation of powers, this has not yet taken place and the Authority in relation to the PLC, the judiciary, and the opposition practices hegemony. In this respect, the democratic process is felt to be superficial. Although the PLC s experience as an institution has been successful to a point, neither the establishment of other institutions or the separation of powers has reached the aspired levels.

Since 1994, we have been going through a process of construction, formed of three stages: namely, completing the construction of basic structures and institutions, finishing the formulation of programs and action plans, and achieving the highest possible level of performance. Each of these stages is linked with the one that follows it, and because the second and third stages did not go well, the Authority was unable to complete the three stages. The construction process requires time, and we are still at the very beginning.

Often, the Authority resorts to taking preventive measures because it considers this more merciful than bringing certain cases to court. It hopes that by doing this, it will limit any negative consequences and stop an already sensitive situation from erupting further. The Authority does not resort to taking such measures due to a desire to seek revenge.

With regard to the existence of corruption within the Authority, the arrival of its members came at the end of a period with several negative aspects, including the occupation and the exile in which its members lived. There was no opportunity to prepare them for the tasks that lay ahead, and it is therefore inevitable that mistakes will sometimes be made, which is why we have witnessed the presence of corrupted elements. The control department was incapable of dealing with corruption in the appropriate manner, partly because the follow up and consequently, the success rate in revealing and proving corruption were weak. One should remember that it is impossible to wage two battles at one time, and that the efforts being made in the name of independence and the establishment of the independent state are being made at the expense of the internal construction. Once we have our independence, then obviously, it will be essential that there is internal and democratic reform. Only then will it be feasible to hold every official in the Authority accountable.

The timing of the reports published by human rights organizations has at times had negative political implications. The reports on administrative corruption postpone and even prevent international support and assistance being extended to us.

With regard to the PLC elections, the term of the PLC was supposed to end with the completion of the transitional period and the reaching of a final status agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Accordingly, when we are finally able to exercise our right to practice self-determination, the elections will take place for the already established PLC. During the last PLC meeting, the Council s term was extended for one year, in the hope that by the end of the year, the Palestinian state would have been established and self-determination practiced. Direct presidential elections were also conducted, thereby lending support to the features of the state. Among other steps, this will help in imposing realities on the ground.

With regard to the complementation between the Authority and the opposition, it already exists. Indeed, the mere presence of parties that oppose the Authority as well as those that support it creates complementation. The armed operations on the other hand are sometimes considered crimes. We must therefore look and see who is benefiting from them, especially in terms of their political outcome.

With regard to the ministries and the various departments, their powers were not clearly defined at the time of their establishment. Rather, the structures were formulated and the powers followed. The sense of security and responsibility has now matured, and there is a continuous process of education. What this means is that the construction process is continuing alongside with training, education, and enhancing the competence of everyone.

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