05-14-2002, 09:40 PM
In light of Yasser Arafat's being confronted on many sides, will he succomb to internal and external pressure to reform the PA?
Will Arafat be willing to relinquish any of his power to someone else? Will he risk losing his hold on the Palestinian destiny?
Considering that he has been fired upon by residents of Jenin, are Arafat's days numbered?
05-16-2002, 04:19 PM
Hostility to Arafat Grows Among the Palestinians
The people are losing patience with his corrupt and repressive regime.
By AMIR TAHERI, Amir Taheri is a writer for Arab News, an English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presented by his propaganda as "the renewal of the pledge between the leader and the people," Yasser Arafat's tour of Palestinian towns this week had been planned as a triumphal march for the self-styled president. Instead, it turned into a long-overdue exercise in humiliation for Arafat and provided further evidence of deep-rooted hostility to his leadership among Palestinians.
In Jenin, where his men had hoped for dramatic television footage, Arafat hurried back into his bulletproof car after it became clear that the 3,000-strong crowd waiting in the devastated refugee camp would give him a rough time. In Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, he drew just 250 people, mostly employees of his administration.
"Arafat is not interested in us and we are not interested in him," said Muhammad Abu-Ghalyoun, a former inhabitant of the Jenin camp. "He has no business in Palestine." As long as Arafat was a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, few Palestinians were prepared to criticize him. Now, however, voices are being raised against his autocratic, inefficient and corrupt regime. Many Palestinians still fear Arafat's "hit squads," which have established a tradition of assassinating political adversaries and potential rivals since the 1960s. Hence the reluctance of some to be quoted by name. Others, however, are prepared to take the risk, a sign that Arafat's hold on the Palestinians is loosening.
"Arafat is running the areas under his control for the sole purpose of making money for his cronies and international glory for himself," said Yahya Ibrahim, a Palestinian businessman.
So widespread is knowledge of the corruption Arafat presides over that he and his Cabinet of 40 ministers are routinely referred to as Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. The European Union, the Arab states and Israel (in the form of customs income) have poured about $3 billion into Arafat's coffers since 1994. Arafat has spent part of it creating his repressive machine, which consists of 12 separate security agencies--all answerable to him--a ubiquitous police force and, believe it or not, a miniature navy of which he is admiral.
Arafat has insisted on controlling every account and signing every check for more than $10,000. A survey of the contracts awarded by his administration reveals that the lion's share went to his relatives, his cronies and a few powerful businessmen linked to the family of his wife, Suha.
"Bush is naive if he thinks Arafat is the man to clean the mess," one Palestinian journalist said privately. "Arafat is at the center of a system of corruption. There can be no reform unless Arafat goes."
Corruption is only one reason why more Palestinians do not want Arafat. Another is repression. Arafat refuses to arrest alleged terrorists wanted by Israel but has no qualms about jailing his opponents. Since 1994, an estimated 12,000 Palestinians have spent time in Arafat's jails. This is the equivalent of having more than 1.2 million political prisoners in the United States.
Journalists are imprisoned or beaten up by Arafat's thugs for such "crimes" as not putting the leader's photograph on the front page.
Arafat's machine employs about 70,000 people, half of them armed men, in a population of 2.5 million. (for comparison LA has about 14,500 LAPD officers)
Arafat also is criticized for his lack of interest in the bread-and-butter issues of his community. He has spent much of his time traveling abroad or entertaining foreign dignitaries. From 1994 to the end of 2001, when Ariel Sharon imposed a travel ban on him, Arafat made 83 foreign visits to 44 countries. Because his wife and daughter live in Paris, he also spent much time there. The only time Arafat spent more than two consecutive months in Palestinian-controlled areas was the five months Israel kept him under virtual house arrest in Ramallah.
Arafat got himself elected chairman of the Palestinian Authority (he prefers the title of president) in 1994 with 83% of the votes in an arranged election boycotted by nearly 40% of the electorate. Although an elected parliament is functioning--weakly--under the constitution, Arafat rules by decree. These decrees, known as "presidential acts," often contravene laws passed by the parliament.
Arafat has shown himself incapable of developing a peace strategy for his people. In the last 30 years, more than a dozen peace plans have been proposed by various Arab and Israeli leaders, but there has never been an Arafat plan.
He has lied and cheated his way through a tumultuous career that has made him one of the richest men in the Arab world. He has been a friend to everyone and to no one.
Once an officer in the Egyptian army, Arafat started his career as a Palestinian liberation leader with more than a nod from Cairo. Later, he had no qualms about betraying his Egyptian mentors and praising the assassins of President Anwar Sadat.
The emir of Kuwait financed him for years , but Arafat betrayed the Kuwaitis in 1990 by siding with Saddam Hussein. In 1971, the Syrians saved him from certain death in Jordan. But he lost no time in betraying them too.
In 1982, American Marines saved Arafat from capture by Sharon's troops in Lebanon. In 1991, he repaid the U.S. and its allies by siding with Iraq.
Is Arafat the "inevitable" Palestinian interlocutor that Secretary of State Colin Powell claims? The answer coming from the Palestinians and the Muslim world in general is an emphatic no. Arab and other Muslim leaders will not call for Arafat's demise as long as Sharon does. But there is a growing feeling that the Palestinians need a new, younger, better-educated and cleaner leadership.
Arafat, of course, will not give up easily and is still capable of having potential rivals murdered. But the outside world, especially the European Union, can help clean up the mess by denying him control of the aid money. Just as the United Nations has oversight on how Iraq spends its oil money, the foreign aid that has helped Arafat build a mini-empire should be subject to some control.
The next general election in the Palestinian Authority, due next year, should be organized under international auspices so Arafat cannot use his money and police to arrange the results again. Clean elections in the territories could see radical Islamists win some parliamentary seats. But most regional experts think the Islamists would not have a majority. There is a silent majority for peace among the Palestinians, but Arafat has no interest in letting it become vocal.
Arafat has lived long while young Palestinians and Israelis have died. His political demise could allow the young generation on both sides to seek a different future.
05-16-2002, 07:02 PM
346 million dollar accounting 'irregularities', a economy in tatters and more cops per capita than anywhere else on earth.
Sure sounds like a Gulag-in-the-sun to me. He could put the Russian Mafia to shame.
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