With hearts full of sadness, PCHR mourns the passing away of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar), and submit sincere consolations to his family and to the Palestinian people who are witnessing severe times as they are seeing their leader for the last time, who represented the symbol their struggle for liberty and independence. The passing away of Abu Ammar is the loss of a prominent Arab-Palestinian leader, who had been a symbol for the Palestinian cause for 40 years.
Despite this tragic occurrence, we are very satisfied with the peaceful and quiet transition of authority in the Palestinian leadership according to the applicable laws following the declaration of President Arafat’s death on Thursday, 11 November 2004. Contrary to expectations of many observers, the Palestinian people have proved that they are civilized and that they have institutions that are efficient, in spite of numerous difficulties, which can fill vacancies in the political leadership smoothly and in a well-organized manner, both in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the highest political body representing the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Mr. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was elected as the chairman of the PLO Executive Committee, succeeding President Arafat who had the responsibilities of this post for decades, according to the laws that govern the PLO and its institutions. Also on Thursday, Mr. Rawhi Fattouh, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), made the constitutional oath to be the temporary president of the PNA for a period that would not exceed 60 days, during which free and direct elections would be organized to choose a new president according to article 37 of the Palestinian Basic Law.
This smooth and peaceful transition of authority must be followed by holding free and direct elections in the 60-day period according to the Basic Law. It will never be acceptable under any circumstance to amend the Basic Law to avoid holding election in the due period, as elections provided the Palestinian people with a historical opportunity to practice democracy and promote institutionalization of the Palestinian governance.
Free and fair elections represent a demand by all Palestinian political powers and civil society groups, as it was clear during registration for elections which started in the beginning of last September. Even if there is a Palestinian political will to hold the elections as prescribed by the Basic Law, the continuous attacks made by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) will make it impossible to hold free and fair elections.
So, Israel, as an occupying power, is required to take a series of steps to provide the political and field environment necessary to hold elections. These steps include:
- Lifting restrictions imposed on the freedom of movement of Palestinian civilians in the OPT, as it will not be possible to hold elections while such restrictions deprive Palestinian civilians of their right to freedom of movement not only between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but between one community and another.
- Stopping regular incursions into Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps, during which Israeli occupation forces kill and destroy.
- Stopping extra-judicial killing that target Palestinian leaders and militants.
- Stopping arrests and releasing political prisoners.
- Allowing Palestinians living in occupied Jerusalem to participate in elections (Israeli occupation forces closed the 7 registration centers established by the Palestinian Central Election Committee in Jerusalem last September).
In brief, Israeli occupation forces must redeploy its units to retrieve the situation of 28 September 2000, the day that preceded the outbreak of the current Intifada, and stop the attacks they have continued to perpetrate in the OPT since that date.
While Palestinians seek to hold elections and practice their right to democratically choose their leadership, as it was demonstrated in the transition of authority, and as all Palestinian political powers support holding such elections, the international community is required to effectively intervene to make it possible to hold elections.
The United States and the European Union are specially required to pressure Israel, as an occupying power, to take a series of steps to allow Palestinians to practices their right to hold free and fair elections.