23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Investing in peaceBy Mona Makram Ebeid *
The Palestinian Authority responded to the protest letter sent by 20 prominent Palestinian academics and political leaders, in which they accuse Yasser Arafat of allowing widespread corruption, by jailing most of them. This reflects the executive power of the PA, which has systematically neutralised the legislature as a political force. Past efforts by the elected legislature to enforce accountability and combat corruption have been totally ignored.
This latest incident, quite a serious one (reminiscent of the 1981 arrests in Egypt), comes at a crucial time for Palestinians as peace talks with Israel accelerate and the Palestinian Authority prepares to take on more responsibilities associated with statehood. Indeed, it is precisely now that Arafat needs to consolidate his strength at home and build a broader constituency for peace, because he will have to make unpopular concessions to the Israelis.
What is most intriguing, however, is the position of the United States. The expansion of democracy has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy. Clearly, though, in terms of operational policy, the US position on democracy in the PA is ambiguous. This latest incidence of PA corruption and abuse of power did not even elicit comment from Washington. Why such reluctance? Historical events in the region have disproved the cliché that it is easier to deal with dictatorships than with democratic regimes. No peace will survive if it is not embraced by the people. If the US is serious about peace in Palestine, it would do well to urge the leadership to embrace democracy.
* This week's Soapbox speaker is a former member of the People's Assembly.