An Arab Parliament That Speaks Its Mind

Between the burdens of the occupation, the poverty, the gang and organization wars, the closures, the liquidations, the home demolitions and the relocations, someone latched onto a thread that came out of the Palestinian Constitution- and fomented a revolution.

Between the burdens of the occupation, the poverty, the gang and organization wars, the curfew, the closures, the liquidations, the home demolitions and the relocations, someone latched onto a thin golden thread that came out of the frayed and tattered Provisional Palestinian Constitution - and fomented a revolution.

The constitution, which was promulgated in 1996, stipulates that new cabinet ministers require the approval of the parliament. Last June, when Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat appointed five new cabinet ministers within the framework of the reforms, as they are known, it became apparent to many members of the Palestinian parliament, and to the Palestinian public, that the reforms were perhaps going a little way toward prettifying the face of the PA in the perception of Israel and the United States, but were failing to meet the real need: the government's treatment of its citizens.

"We turned to the method of dividing up the spoils instead of bearing the burden together," wrote Nabil Amro, who resigned his cabinet post (minister of parliamentary affairs) immediately upon the introduction of the reforms. Amro was expressing the opinion of many members of parliament and large sections of the Palestinian population, who understood that the advent of the reforms furnished them with a means to shake up the regime. They decided to make use of the article in the constitution mandating parliamentary approval of new ministers in order to force the Palestinian cabinet to resign.

Anyone who wanted reform of the PA got more than he bargained for: suddenly there is an Arab parliament that speaks its mind - elected representatives who are giving all their colleagues in the Arab world a lesson in democracy. When was the last time an Arab parliament decided the composition of the government for a ruler? In what Arab country (with the possible exception of Lebanon) can the ruler not be certain of the outcome of a parliamentary vote?

In the Palestinian Authority, whose leader was able to outmaneuver all his rivals for decades, it was impossible to guess the outcome of the political contest until the last minute.

The Egyptian intellectual Amin al-Mahdi coined the phrase "fear of the leakage of democracy" to describe a phenomenon that exists in the Arab world. It is hardly likely that the step taken last week by the Palestinian Legislative Council will become a model for emulation. Veteran Arab leaders know how to protect themselves against such "leakage," but what will happen if an Arab state is suddenly established that will breach the unity of the non-democratic ranks?

The example presented by the Palestinian parliament shows that this "threat" could yet be realized, because when a parliament sets a precedent and beats the executive branch at arm wrestling, it will make sure to retain that clout.

In Israel, as usual, the only question that interests anyone is whether Arafat lost or gained, and where his daily relevance level stands. No one in the governmental system, including the intelligence community, predicted that this would be the outcome of the legislative gathering. After all, the entire Israeli system is deployed to cast full blame on Arafat for everything that happens in the territories, and naturally he was said to possess magic power to steer the whole process, including the results of a parliamentary debate.

The question, then, was not what the representatives of the Palestinian society would do, but whether Israel would not lose something of its crushing victory if it let Arafat deliver a speech to the members of his parliament. The point is that the war is perceived as a personal campaign against Arafat, without taking into account the possibility that the Palestinian society might want to take action against its government with the same determination it is showing against the Israeli occupation.

The blindness and deafness about what is happening in the Palestinian society are now engendering the gleefully self-satisfied conclusion that it was the military pressure that engendered the court revolution. Not only did we occupy them, we also fashioned their democracy: a straight line leads from the cannon of the tank to the vote in the Palestinian parliament.

But this democratic development was not executed for the benefit of either Israel or the United States. There is no doubt that it was accelerated by the pressure of the occupation, because in conditions like these, even small mistakes are unforgivable, and the corruption of the few becomes more blatant against the background of the general shortage. But we should not be under any illusions: the basic demands of the Palestinians will not change just because they decided to clean their stables, while, in any case, the government in Israel will not agree to pick up the gauntlet if the Palestinian regime is changed. Both to introduce democracy for the Palestinians and to give up territories for them?