Birzeit Board of Trustees Member Haidar 'Abdel Shafi looks at the road ahead to a Palestinian state

What shall we do? Has the time come for us to put our thoughts and intuition toward formulating an answer to this question? We often hear optimistic statements such as "we will establish our independent state and we will pray together at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem." What lies behind these statements, which have no basis in the depressing reality. Are they made in order to stave off depression and pessimism or what?

Don't such statements only serve to distance us from thinking and trying seriously to overcome our current situation, and deciding what to do about our predicament? At what point do we stop avoiding answering the question of what to do about our problems and the difficult challenges we are facing? The way out of depression and desperation is not through wishful thinking, but by serious thought and organized work.

I believe that every Palestinian wherever s/he is -- inside Palestine or abroad -- has something to offer in advancing our national cause. However, the way to further this cause in practical terms is through organization which takes into consideration the reality of the Palestinian people in all its dimensions and special characteristics. For example, dealing with the majority of the Palestinian people, who live in the Diaspora, is slightly different from dealing with the situation of the Palestinian people inside. I will limit myself here to dealing with the situation inside.

To begin with, I believe we have no other choice than to adopt democracy as the method which will allow us to organize ourselves satisfactorily. It will also take into consideration our human and economic resources and put them to work for the general good. Democracy will also help to bring about social justice and weaken internal conflicts, and will promote cooperation and communal work which benefits the people as a whole. The ultimate result of this will be harmonious national unity.

I don't that this will be as easy as I have just made it sound. It is really a gamble on ourselves that we have the will to rid ourselves of our painful reality and to persist in bringing about change. This will is what can help us achieve a better, stronger permanent presence on the land we are standing on and holding on to. It is also a call for optimism and hope for the future. I have no doubt that all this will project a better image of Palestinian society and will gain us the compassion and respect of the world, just as it will worry the Israeli authorities and cast doubt on their visions of the future...

Elections are the first step on the road to democratic transformation and realizing the will of the people and their right to self-determination. The election of the Legislative Council under the Palestinian National Authority was an important event in the life of the Palestinian people, their hopes for achieving their national goals and grounding themselves on constitutional principles. Unfortunately, however, the Council's path was disturbed, and so it did not achieve the hoped-for democratic transformation of Palestinian society, for reasons which it is futile to bring up again. Bygones should be bygones, and what is needed now is to look ahead to the future.

In my opinion, the present Legislative Council has lost its power to achieve the required democratic transformation, because of the obstacles placed in its path. In addition, all national parties are not represented in the Council, because of their boycott of the elections. Therefore, we must work on a new beginning which will profit from this brief experience, in order to do better.

I think that the Council should dissolve itself, to pave the way for new elections in which all existing national parties and groups can participate, and a comprehensive representation of Palestinian society is achieved. I think this can be a practical suggestion, if everyone is convinced of its necessity and importance, and if there is enough determination to carry it out. In this way, we will close the door on the past after learning our lessons from it, and we will begin a new day full of hope with a new Council whose duty will be to establish a Palestinian model of democracy.

I make this suggestion fully convinced of its importance and necessity. I present it to everyone in Palestinian society; to all who have not forgotten the martyrs and our great sacrifices in land and wealth; to all those who have not forgotten Jerusalem with all our holy places and heritage. I hope this will open a debate which will lead us to the right path.

And finally, a word to President Arafat. It is my duty, Mr. President, to believe what you say, for we are speaking frankly. I have no doubt that you see the whole picture in its true colors from the benefit of your experience and expertise. There is no doubt that you must decide where you stand without hesitation. You are the leader of a long struggle. You must decide how it will end. I hope that your decision will be to cooperate with the new Council in order to establish a Palestinian model of democracy.