PA Warned: Become More Democratic and Effective or Lose Support

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT


Jerusalem (CNS) - The Palestinian Authority must take profound and urgent steps to make its institutions more democratic and more effective, or face loss of public support, an independent taskforce of American and European experts has advised.

Palestinian commentators have welcomed the contents of a 150-page report published by the Council of Foreign Relations-sponsored group this week, but say to make a real difference, it must be taken seriously by the PA.

Taskforce director Henry Siegman is scheduled to hold talks on the report Tuesday with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, leading Palestinian political analyst Ghassan Khatib told CNSNews.com.

"Siegman told me that he will meet Arafat today, and will push for joint working committees, to look into ways of implementing some of the recommendations. He stressed he would be persistent.

"The task force has great leverage," Khatib said. "They want the PA to deal seriously with these issues."

PA Planning Minister Nabil Sha'ath has welcomed the report, telling a press conference the PA could adopt many of the recommendations "in order to be ready for the declaration of our independent state."

The task force was chaired by former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, and included several retired U.S. political figures and former European heads of state.

Twenty-five experts - many of them Palestinians - evaluated PA institutions for effectiveness, transparency and accountability. The resulting report claims to be the first independent, systematic and comprehensive assessment of the five-year-old self-rule authority.

A major target of the report is the PA judiciary, which it says lacks independence and is effectively controlled by the executive and by the security forces.

Moreover, too much power is concentrated in the hands of the executive, headed by Arafat.

Also criticized are the legislative council, which the report says lacks the power to hold the executive accountable, and the security forces, accused of human rights abuses, "insufficient observance of due process, inadequate separation of functions and responsibilities between its branches, occasionally violent interservice rivalries, and uncontrolled proliferation of parallel security agencies."

The report urges the PA to adopt a constitution, to downsize the office of the presidency and the bloated civil service, to centralize public revenues and expenditures, and to place the police force under civilian control and legislative oversight.

Its authors warn that public confidence in PA institutions plays an important role in the PA's "contest for legitimacy with radical elements that reject the Oslo accords and claim to do a better job than the PA at delivering certain services to the Palestinian people."

Furthermore, "this confidence bears on the PA's ability to negotiate and compromise with Israel and affects Israel's confidence in the PA's ability to implement agreements. Good governance is therefore a necessary condition for the success of the peace process."

The report does praise the PA for some achievements, including the delivery of services and the creation of a cabinet.

But Khatib was unimpressed, telling CNSNews.com this was the one aspect of the report he viewed with criticism.

"I think [the authors] wanted it to look balanced so they tried hard to find something positive to say. The establishment of the PA [cabinet] cannot be an achievement of the PA itself.

"The delivery of health care and education is a little exaggerated," he added. "The PA inherited the services and infrastructure. It's still open to question whether they have improved these services substantially."

In the report, taskforce chairman Rocard writes that he believes implementation of the recommendations "will bring about improvements in the running of the Palestinian Authority and in the quality of life of the Palestinian people. It will also inevitably enhance the future state, however defined, to which the final-status negotiations may give rise."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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