Defeating the PA’s new cabinet challenges – opinion

I bet the new Palestinian prime minister has never held a gun. Whether I am right or wrong is irrelevant. What is entirely relevant is that Dr. Mohammad Mustafa has walked into a minefield where he is neither a minesweeper nor a sapper who can defuse the numerous mines ahead of him.

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An old piece of wisdom from Arabic literature tells of a man who, after handcuffing someone and throwing him off a boat into the sea, warned, “Beware. Don’t get wet.” This aptly mirrors the predicament of Mustafa as he navigates his role in the new government, inaugurated Sunday night before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is not only the Palestinians who have high expectations from Mustafa and his cabinet. The countries of the region—Israel included—as well as the US, the EU, and the rest of the world also have their expectations. It is common sense that Prime Minister Mustafa won’t succeed alone. He might be the maestro of the best orchestra (his cabinet ministers), but all those who want or expect him to succeed should dance to the tune of his government. Otherwise, success will remain a dream. The region has no time for dreams. It needs all the time for action. 

The first three priorities for the Palestinian government are (1) ending the war in Gaza, (2) returning 1.9 million displaced Palestinians to their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, and (3) launching a grandiose project to reconstruct the Gaza Strip and bring it back to normal life, a process that may take decades to erase the horrible fallouts of this ugly war.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (credit: REUTERS)

Reforming the PA is a must

Without honest and urgent international support for the Palestinian government, no one should expect Dr. Mustafa to turn copper into gold. Almost 20 years ago, the US under President George W. Bush exerted enormous pressure on the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to create the position of prime minister under whose authority part of the security forces would carry out their job. On March 19, 2003, Arafat chose today’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, as his prime minister. Abbas enjoyed the support of the Fatah Central Committee and the PLO Executive Committee. Still, he didn’t get the support he needed to reform the PA and to spread the rule of law within the PA areas, which at the time lacerated with the second Intifada and all its upshots.

While all those who spoke highly of Abbas at the time did nothing to help him succeed, frustration became the name of the game. On Sept. 6, 2003, he resigned as he couldn’t deliver what he promised. He got caught between tense relations with Arafat over power and Israel’s failure to provide anything that could have eased the tension in the occupied territories. Israel, the US, and the others not only turned their backs on him, but their inaction, coated with sweet words, disabled every effort he made to move on. The Abbas saga at the time should not be Mustafa’s. It is the collective duty of all parties to come to his aid.

The PA government, sworn in on March 31, is the 19th since the PA’s establishment in 1994. It has the talent and know-how to perform and deliver. But without generous financial resources, it will remain a maimed government with few powers to handle the minimal daily needs of the Palestinian people. 

First, Israel must immediately release all the tax revenues it has withheld in the past. It must also undertake to continue transferring those revenues regularly as stipulated in the agreements signed between Israel and the PLO. Israel also needs to provide a conducive environment for the Palestinian economy to nourish by lifting the restrictions it imposed since the painful events of October 7 and before.

Reforming the PA is a must. The president, his new prime minister, and every other level of authority and power in the PA are convinced that reforming any government without accomplishments on the political level is nothing but a dream in broad daylight. The Palestinians want to see today’s reality of living under occupation gone, once and for all. They don’t need anything that is meant to whitewash the ugly face of occupation and its daily impact on their lives.

No wonder key countries designated to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, made it clear they won’t engage without a political package that moves out of the war in Gaza into a comprehensive peace settlement in the region based on the two-state solution. Many may think the two-state solution is caduque because of the war in Gaza. On the contrary, the bitterness, plight, and agony faced by the Israelis and the Palestinians long before October 7 and since then are nothing but solid and irrefutable proof that this conflict can never end without a political settlement. Violence, terror, and occupation are never a way of life. They will never be. Dr. Mustafa might be the knight in shining armor, but this knight cannot deliver without his sword. Help him, don’t fail him.

Elias Zananiri is a former journalist from East Jerusalem who has filled several senior positions in the PLO over the past two decades.

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