Task Force: PA Reforms Advancing

The meeting between the international Task Force, which oversees the implementation of reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and a Palestinian delegation of ministers, financiers businessmen and non-governmental organizations, concluded on Friday that satisfactory progress is being achieved.

The Task Force, comprising the Quartet (the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) and representatives from Japan, Norway, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, stressed that "in spite of the very difficult conditions," progress in the reforms was achieved - mostly on the financial level.

The Task Force also agreed in general with the Palestinians' claim that the severe restrictions in movement Israel has imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank is hindering the implementation of reforms beyond new legislation and financial changes.

During closed meetings of the Task Force and the Palestinian delegation, two different approaches to the continuation of reform implementations in general - and the issue of elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in particular - were raised.

According to a Palestinian source, one approach, which is mostly supported by the U.S., holds that elections must come only after the following three requirements are met: reforms in security; institutional reforms; and the adoption of a new election law that will pave the way for new elections.

In this approach, a date for the elections should not be decided now. So far, the Palestinians have declared January 15, 2003 the date for new elections.

According to the second approach, supported by the Palestinians and some of the contributing countries, elections and reforms must continue simultaneously.

The Palestinians are concerned that making the fulfillment of one stage of reforms dependent on others will allow Israel to postpone perpetually its part in any agreements.

The Palestinians hope that by establishing an election date, Israel will also be forced to lift the siege on Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

As in other recent meetings, the Palestinians rejected suggestions by American representatives that changes that might push chairman Yasser Arafat to the sidelines be incorporated into the election law.

A Palestinian source said that during "talks in the corridors" one U.S. representative emphasized to his Palestinian colleague that "the Yasser Arafat file is closed" from the American point of view. In short, Washington is unwilling to alter its decision that Arafat must go.

A Task Force source told Ha'aretz that the U.S. delegation, headed by Liz Cheney (daughter of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney), sought to clarify that although there are "a number of conditions," this should not be interpreted as a lack of American interest in the Palestinian Legislative Council's holding elections.

The source spoke in response to a Palestinian assertion that the U.S. and Israel are in cahoots on this issue. Those reluctant to set an election date, said the source, are convinced that first it is necessary for the Palestinians to return security to the area and for the Israelis to withdraw.

According to the opposing view, an election date will create momentum that will encourage and commit the two sides to fulfill their various commitments, and also to convince the Palestinian public that the efforts are not one-sided.