An IsraelForum.com original article:
Another Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity
April 22, 2003
By Michael Rand
(IsraelForum.com) -- Huge rifts in the Palestinian leadership came to light recently, as newly appointed Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas engaged in public debate with Yasser Arafat. The dispute began when Arafat blocked Abbas' appointment of ministers who might oppose terrorism, and within a week, the tension escalated to the point that the Palestinian Prime Minister threatened to resign his post.
In reaction, the United States, flanked by the European Union, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and even high-ranking members of the Saudi regime phoned Arafat and issued dire warnings about thwarting the new prime minister's appointments. By squeezing Arafat directly and unanimously, the world essentially acknowledged that Arafat is the barrier to peace in the Middle East, and has begun an unprecedented campaign to force Arafat into submission.
To back up their warnings to Arafat, the U.S. and the EU threatened to withhold revealing details of their Mideast "Roadmap," which ultimately would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state in 2005. As usual though, the Palestinians once again demonstrated that they will never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
According to U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, it was "urgent" that the Palestinians complete the process of establishing a government. "The Palestinian people deserve serious leaders ready to work toward the vision of two independent states, an independent Palestine living side by side with Israel. That's the opportunity now. We would hope they would not miss it," he said.
The Reluctant Fig Leaf
But recent events indicate that for Arafat, his appointment of long-time loyalist Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, was just a ploy to maintain control over the Palestinian regime, while throwing the U.S. and EU a bone to placate them. Arafat's plan was to continue terrorism as usual with his new Prime Minister serving as a fig leaf of sorts in the international arena. But Abu Mazen took Arafat by surprise, as the new Palestinian Prime Minister sought a measure of independence in choosing his own cabinet -- a turn of events that enraged Arafat.
At the center of the dispute were the appointment of former Gaza security force chief Muhammad Dahlan, and the notion of dismantling the al Aqsa Brigades. Dahlan, while a bloodthirsty thug who organized a myriad of suicide bombings, as well as helped coordinate the Karine A weapons shipment, is still opposed by Arafat for two reasons. First, Dahlan is a charismatic political figure (unlike Abu Mazen), who might overtake Arafat's aging inner circle someday and, therefore, represents a threat to Arafat's regime. Secondly, Dahlan is considered one of the only Palestinian figures with the capability to stand up to terrorist groups, if he should be inclined to do so. For this reason, Ariel Sharon backs Dahlan's nomination, which only adds fuel to the fire of Arafat's opposition.
The other point of contention involves the al Aqsa Brigades, a Palestinian group sitting at the top of the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. The group is responsible for the massacres of scores of Israeli and American citizens. As a part of Arafat's al Fatah party (equivalent to Iraq's Baath party), al Aqsa receives its orders directly from Arafat, and is therefore a terrorist asset the Palestinian leader is loath to let go.
Despite the disagreement with Arafat, it is far from certain that Abu Mazen intends on eradicating Palestinian terrorism altogether. Groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Hizbullah, al Aqsa, and any other group bent on mass-murdering Israelis and Americans tend to enjoy huge support among the Palestinian people. Nonetheless, as he reached an impasse with Abbas, Arafat began to consider other, more pro-terrorism candidates like Arafat's chief terrorism apologist Saeb Erekat. However, as soon as Arafat started naming potential replacements for Abu Mazen, the U.S. and the EU informed Arafat, in no uncertain terms, that only Abu Mazen would do.
A "strong and empowered Palestinian cabinet, headed by Abu Mazen, committed to serious efforts on reform and security, is deeply in the interest of the Palestinian people," Richard Boucher said, speaking at the April 21 State Department briefing.
In Arafat's Court
Still, Arafat reportedly hung up the phone on an unnamed senior European diplomat who was recently urging Arafat to back down. For the Father of Modern Terrorism, Yasser Arafat, suicide bombings and mass-murders make up his usual way of doing business. During his entire career, he has never been presented by the Europeans with a clear choice of stopping the killing of innocents, or facing serious retribution.
The question is whether the world is finally serious about forcing the Palestinians to change their ways. It seems that even now, after the fall of his ally and hero, Saddam Hussein, Arafat does not realize that a new day is dawning in the Middle East. But the choice is becoming clearer to Arafat as his traditional European backers apply a new level of pressure on the Palestinian dictator. If the Europeans persist, there may be a chance for real progress in the Israeli/Palestinian war. If they donâ€™t, then all bets are off and the Palestinians will have to finally go it alone against Israel with America's blessing. The ball is now in the Palestinians' court.
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