Subject: Jimmy Carter, "Don't Punish the Palestinians"--op ed WashPost 2/20/06
Don't Punish the Palestinians
By Jimmy Carter
Monday, February 20, 2006; Page A21
As the results of the recent Palestinian elections are implemented, it's
important to understand how the transition process works and also how
important to it are actions by Israel and the United States.
Although Hamas won 74 of the 132 parliamentary seats, Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas retains the right to propose and veto
legislation, with 88 votes required to override his veto. With nine of
its elected members remaining in prison, Hamas has only 65 votes, plus
whatever third-party support it can attract. Abbas also has the power to
select and remove the prime minister, to issue decrees with the force of
law when parliament is not in session, and to declare a state of
emergency. As commander in chief, he also retains ultimate influence
over the National Security Force and Palestinian intelligence.
After the first session of the new legislature, which was Saturday, the
members will elect a speaker, two deputies and a secretary. These
legislative officials are not permitted to hold any position in the
executive branch, so top Hamas leaders may choose to concentrate their
influence in the parliament and propose moderates or technocrats for
prime minister and cabinet posts. Three weeks are allotted for the prime
minister to form the cabinet, and a majority vote of the parliament is
required for final approval.
The role of the prime minister was greatly strengthened while Abbas and
Ahmed Qureia served in that position under Yasser Arafat, and Abbas has
announced that he will not choose a prime minister who does not
recognize Israel or adhere to the basic principles of the "road map."
This could result in a stalemated process, but my conversations with
representatives of both sides indicate that they wish to avoid such an
imbroglio. The spokesman for Hamas claimed, "We want a peaceful unity
government." If this is a truthful statement, it needs to be given a chance.
During this time of fluidity in the formation of the new government, it
is important that Israel and the United States play positive roles. Any
tacit or formal collusion between the two powers to disrupt the process
by punishing the Palestinian people could be counterproductive and have
Unfortunately, these steps are already underway and are well known
throughout the Palestinian territories and the world. Israel moved
yesterday to withhold funds (about $50 million per month) that the
Palestinians earn from customs and tax revenue. Perhaps a greater
aggravation by the Israelis is their decision to hinder movement of
elected Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members through any of
more than a hundred Israeli checkpoints around and throughout the
Palestinian territories. This will present significant obstacles to a
government's functioning effectively. Abbas informed me after the
election that the Palestinian Authority was $900 million in debt and
that he would be unable to meet payrolls during February. Knowing that
Hamas would inherit a bankrupt government, U.S. officials have announced
that all funding for the new government will be withheld, including what
is needed to pay salaries for schoolteachers, nurses, social workers,
police and maintenance personnel. So far they have not agreed to bypass
the Hamas-led government and let humanitarian funds be channeled to
Palestinians through United Nations agencies responsible for refugees,
health and other human services.
This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas
officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow
purpose, but the likely results will be to alienate the already
oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase
the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will
certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate
The election of Hamas candidates cannot adversely affect genuine peace
talks, since such talks have been nonexistent for over five years. A
negotiated agreement is the only path to a permanent two-state solution,
providing peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians. In fact, if
Israel is willing to include the Palestinians in the process, Abbas can
still play this unique negotiating role as the unchallenged leader of
the PLO (not the government that includes Hamas).
It was under this umbrella and not the Palestinian Authority that Arafat
negotiated with Israeli leaders to conclude the Oslo peace agreement.
Abbas has sought peace talks with Israel since his election a year ago,
and there is nothing to prevent direct talks with him, even if Hamas
does not soon take the ultimately inevitable steps of renouncing
violence and recognizing Israel's right to exist.
It would not violate any political principles to at least give the
Palestinians their own money; let humanitarian assistance continue
through U.N. and private agencies; encourage Russia, Egypt and other
nations to exert maximum influence on Hamas to moderate its negative
policies; and support President Abbas in his efforts to ease tension,
avoid violence and explore steps toward a lasting peace.
/Former president Carter led a team from the Carter Center and the
National Democratic Institute that observed last month's Palestinian