from Al-Ahram weekly

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, June 18, 2002 at 3:20PM :

Palestinian tragedy with a Greek ending
When Bethlehem deportees Mohamed and Mamdouh arrived in Athens, little did they know that they were arriving in Europe's most pro-Palestinian country. They gave an exclusive interview in Athens to Iason Athanasiadis

At least one Palestinian was killed as Israeli invading tanks patrolled the Am'ari refugee camp near Ramallah (photo: Reuters )

The "reformed" Palestinian cabinet had a shaky start on Monday when Israeli tanks once again rolled into Ramallah, just as the newly-formed cabinet was due to hold its opening session at the thoroughly battered headquarters of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Consequently the session, during which ministers were to be officially instated, had to be cancelled because the invading Israeli troops placed the entire town under curfew.

Indeed, the Israeli army's re-entry into Ramallah, the cancellation of the cabinet session and the resumption of the siege of the Palestinian Authority's (PA) government headquarters serve as a bitter reminder of the authority's predicament as an entity whose power is continually undermined by military occupation.

The new cabinet declared on 9 June comprises 21 ministers, down from the 32 in the previous government.

Most of the defunct portfolios were either incorporated into relevant ministries, or reformulated into independent "departments" and "directorates."

The most important change in the new government is the inclusion of three new faces. Abdel-Raziq Al- Yahya, a former chief of the Jordan- based Palestine Liberation Army, was appointed minister of interior in charge of internal security. Yasser Arafat had assumed the duties of this portfolio since the PA was established in 1994.

Al-Yahya, 73, is an Arafat loyalist who will oversee the authority's four security departments, which replace the multitude of PA security agencies.

The Americans will be watching closely Al-Yahya's capacity to prevent Palestinian resistance attacks against Israeli targets, particularly suicide bombings within Israel proper.

However, given the virtual decimation of the PA security apparatus, especially in the West Bank, it is expected to be some time before Al- Yahya, or for that matter any other figure, can carry out the designated tasks called for by the Americans.

Moreover, it is still unclear what the division of labour and chain of command will be with respect to new roles for erstwhile influential Palestinian security chiefs, such as Jibril Al-Rajoub and Mohamed Dahlan.

The second important change in the new PA government was the appointment of Salam Fayyad at the head of the cash-strapped Ministry of Finance.

Fayyad, a prominent banker and financial expert, had for seven years been the International Monetary Fund representative to the PA before he became the regional manager of the Arab Bank in Palestine.

Fayyad will have the onerous task of proposing measures to revive and stabilise PA finances, which were virtually decimated by the Israeli army's destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and exacerbated by the absence of transparency and accountability throughout the PA administrative system.

The new minister of justice, Ibrahim Al-Doghma, who replaces Freih Abu Maddin of the Gaza Strip, faces the challenging task of reforming the justice system and developing measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Minister of Information and Culture Yasser Abed Rabbo described the new government as "interim" in nature, saying that its main task was to prepare for the local and general elections which will probably be held before the end of the year.

However, the majority of Palestinians reacted to the cabinet reshuffle with a combination of cynicism and indifference.

Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Mahmoud Al-Zahar described the new cabinet as "not radically different from its predecessor".

"These are certainly not the reforms the Palestinian people had been looking for. The cabinet reshuffle disappointed most Palestinians."

Zahar further charged that the PA was more interested in appeasing American and Israeli security demands and less concerned with introducing genuine reforms that would truly serve the interests of the Palestinian people.

The proverbial "man in the street", hard-hit by sustained Israeli harassment and Draconian restrictions on freedom of movement, was even less impressed by the formation of the new government.

"What government? What cabinet? What reshuffle?" asked a taxi driver from Hebron, rather sarcastically.

"I think it is an insult to people's intelligence to keep talking about political reforms in the PA when, practically speaking, it has no authority."

Indeed, without an irreversible Israeli withdrawal, at least from the erstwhile PA-run territories -- including the major population centres -- talk of Palestinian reform in the political, security and administrative spheres seems virtually pointless to many Palestinians.

Interestingly, the Israeli government, too, dismissed the PA cabinet reshuffle as "irrelevant".

"We will start paying attention to PA reforms the moment we see the PA crack down on the terrorists," said Israeli Defence Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, his words, in effect, underscoring the gulf between Palestinian and Israeli expectations from the demanded reforms.

-- Lilly
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