The Palestinian government in Ramallah last week launched its national policy agenda for the next six years, titled “Putting Citizens First.”
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The general outlines and goals of the plan are contained in a slim booklet distributed at the event. Cynics would call it empty slogans; realists would say that at least it contains recognition of failures and a willingness to improve things.
Beyond the question of the possible implementation of the promises, two things stand out. The first is the timeline. It’s a six-year plan, up till 2022. Israeli commentators have been predicting chaos within the Palestinian Authority once Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is no longer at its helm. The plan emphasizes the existence of institutions whose life span is not dependent on the life span of any leader.
The institutions have tens of thousands of employees, which provide services to hundreds of thousands who rely on them; there is also a mutual relationship and dependence they have on one another. Also involved is the investment of money, time and thought. These shared interests ensure continuity, durability and the desire that plans be carried out, regardless of politics at the top.
The second element that stands out is that the plan is presented as belonging to the State of Palestine. Here, too, the message is clear: Yes, the Palestinian government was not formed following elections, but is also not being deposed. It may not be popular, but it functions as the address for a large public and as such adheres to the goal of the two-state solution.
The booklet includes a “national vision” and states: “Palestine is an independent Arab state with sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the pre-June 1967 occupation borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.” This is the context for planning and taking responsibility for the fate of the Palestinians who live there.
The booklet contains a response of sorts to those in the West Bank and elsewhere who claim the idea of a two-state solution is outdated in its original form (which should be distinguished from the Israeli version of enclaves in the West Bank, excluding the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem). As long as this solution is part of the international agenda, countries worldwide must keep their word and press Israel to bring an end to the occupation, it says.
This is also what Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told the many diplomatic representatives present at last Wednesday’s ceremony at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah.
Of course, the plan does not ignore the occupation. The end of the occupation and achievement of independence is deemed as the number one national priority.
“In the absence of a willing partner to implement the two-state solution, Palestine intends to engage the international community in charting the path from occupied territory to sovereign state,” the document states.
National policy number two is defined as follows: “Holding Israel to account, [utilizing] international tribunals and other mechanisms, [and urging] other states to uphold their obligations under international law.”
Two representatives from the international community were among the speakers at the event: Ralph Tarraf, the European Union’s representative in Jerusalem; and Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East.
Both repeated that they were speaking on behalf of bodies who support the two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, despite the well-known difficulties.
“It’s not easy to present a clear vision when an ‘iron lid’ is placed on Palestinian aspirations in the form of the Israeli occupation,” Mladenov said, adding that the international community must adapt itself to the Palestinians’ plans, rather than the Palestinians adapting to the expectations of the international community. It sounded like self-criticism for the tendency of donor states to dictate to the Palestinians what they must do, and was welcomed by the Palestinian audience.
Tarraf spoke of a reality that is “more difficult and bleak than ever,” with the expansion of the illegal settlements and a solution appearing farther away than ever. He praised the Palestinian government for consultations over the agenda, lasting about 20 months with various entities, and for what he said was a coherence between the goals of the national policy plan and budgetary constraints.
Hamdallah, who spelled out the principles of the plan, complained about a drastic decline in international contributions (by about 70 percent since 2008). He said the Palestinian government had hoped to reduce its dependence on contributions and strengthen the Palestinians’ economic independence. But, as the World Bank had shown, Israeli control of Area C alone (where Israel has both full military and civil control) has caused the Palestinians huge annual loses, he said. He added, in colloquial Arabic – as if making comments in a nonofficial gathering – “If you [donors] do not want to pay, then get rid of the occupation.”
The plan includes ambitious details regarding dozens of goals the government is promising to take upon itself, divided into five categories as the third national priority: economic independence; social justice; the rule of law; quality education for all; and quality health care for all robust communities. Implementation of these goals requires administrative reform – one of the foundations of which will be the decentralization of power and an expansion of the services provided by local councils.
Even without saying so explicitly, the strengthening of local councils reflects preparation for an escalation of sorts. As has been shown in instances of Israeli military operations – including the imposition of closures and curfews, when large numbers of Palestinians have been affected – the local councils have a natural, organic relationship with the people, and their functions are essential to preventing human and social collapse.