Ashrawi to launch PLO watchdog

'IT IS not a counter-force,' says Hanan Ashrawi. 'It is an instrument of civil society to ensure democracy prevails and respect for freedoms and human rights.'

Mrs Ashrawi, formerly spokeswoman for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), has announced that she is to set up a human rights commission, headed by leading Palestinian intellectuals, to be based in Jerusalem.

Mrs Ashrawi, who has recently criticised a lack of PLO democracy, denies the commission is intended to act as a check on the personal authority of Yasser Arafat, the organisation's chairman. It was a decree from Mr Arafat himself that allowed for such a commission to be created, raising doubts that it can be truly independent.

Mrs Ashrawi, however, clearly intends that under her stewardship the body should be independent, and should aim to ensure that Mr Arafat is accountable to the Palestinian people. The commission would also act as a motor of democratic reform within the PLO, she believes. 'People are afraid of leaders coming from outside. They want a system of accountability. There are no guarantees the new system is going to be democratic.'

The figures she has proposed to join the commission's board have been strongly critical of Mr Arafat and elements of the peace accord. They include Edward Said, the foremost Palestinian intellectual; Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian 'national' poet; and Rajah Shehadeh, a leading human rights campaigner and lawyer. If these figures were brought together the commission would be a weighty voice in the new Palestinian debate.

Since the signing of the peace agreement in September, Mr Arafat has faced growing criticism for running a 'one-man show' and using political patronage. Until now, although local leaders such as Mrs Ashrawi have risen to international prominence, the unique nature of Palestinian 'inside-outside' politics has obliged the insiders, living under occupation, to dance to the tune of the outside leadership in Tunis.

As Mrs Ashrawi's initiative demonstrates, however, there are signs that this balance of power may be changing. The imminent arrival of the outside leadership to run the new self-rule authority has focused minds on what kind of regime the PLO will run. Palestinian intellectuals and professionals in the occupied territories, as well as outsiders close to the Tunis entourage, have been unsettled by Mr Arafat's hints that he may not hold elections. And, with security the main priority during the transition to self-rule, there are strong fears about how Mr Arafat might deploy the Palestinian police force.

'A lot of fears are being articulated about the elections and about the police and what will happen to respect for human rights. People are afraid of the unknown. This is a transitional phase and it is going to be difficult,' says Mrs Ashrawi.

Some local Palestinian intellectuals believe that when he arrives to run the new transitional authority Mr Arafat may be surprised by the strong support on the ground for real democracy. Palestinians in the occupied territories have been influenced by Israeli democracy. Acute consciousness of human rights has developed as a result of living under occupation.

'People are extremely politicised here and will not put up with anything that is not a democracy. Palestinians all over the world are aware of the importance of human rights,' says Mrs Ashrawi.

'Mr Arafat knows this. He has been told. He is politically astute and can read the mood of the people. But the leadership outside has had different experiences to the people inside. Now they have to live in a civil society, on their own land, among their own people. The direct proximity to their own people will bring a new need for direct accountability.'

She added: 'Of course the PLO needs internal reform. We have talked a lot with the chairman about putting the right person in the right place, and not using political patronage. It may be our fears are exaggerated. We must start building the institutions to make human rights a reality.'

Mrs Ashrawi blames Israel for making security the number one priority for the incoming Palestinian authority. This has focused too much attention on the strength of the Palestinian police force and its ability to curb the gunmen.

'Security does not come from a strong police force and military. It will come from real democratic participation and reconstruction of a healthy system of government, rather than by force.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas