A POSSIBLE HAMAS-LED "PA"?
ARAFAT TWISTS AND TURNS
EVEN MORE THAN USUAL
MER - Washington - 20 June:
Yasser Arafat is struggling not just to retain power and control,
but to retain any semblance of credibility with his own people as well as with the
Israelis and Americans.
After repeated delays stretching back about a year, the Palestinian
"Legislative Assembly" now has set 25 June as the date for the always postponed
"no confidence" vote.
This is probably the context where the rumors of Arafat's possible
illness, possible resignation, and possible sacking of Feisal Husseini (not such a bad
idea, but not for the reasons rumored) are in the air. The probable hope is to make enough
people nervous about "losing" Arafat and what might come in his wake to tip them
against pushing Arafat over the edge and finally riding the Palestinian people of the
burden of his "leadership" -- with all the repression, corruption and
incompetence associated with his regime.
This summary from a specialized newsletter known as "Global
RUMORS CIRCULATE OF ARAFAT RESIGNATION
There are reports in the Israeli and Arab press that Palestinian
National Authority (PNA) Chairman Yassir Arafat will step down for reasons of failing
health following the conclusion of an agreement on an Israeli withdrawal from occupied
territories. The report, denied by the PNA as "groundless" and "a
lie," initially appeared in the state-owned Egyptian newspaper
"Al-Jumhuriyah." The newspaper reported that Arafat's position could be filled,
on an interim basis, by Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmad Quray or Palestinian
National Council President Salim al-Zanun.
The story has since been picked up by the "Voice of
Israel" radio program, the Associated Press, and the Israeli newspapers
"Jerusalem Post" and "Haaretz." The London-based Arabic newspaper
"Al-Sharq al-Aswat" on June 11 queried Arafat about reports that he had told
President Clinton that PLO Executive Committee Secretary Mahmud Abbas would be his
successor. Arafat only stated that the Palestinian National Council and PLO Executive
Committee would decide on his successor. However, the Jerusalem Post noted that Arafat has
taken no operative steps toward relinquishing control and commented wryly that
"instances across the Arab world of a leader appointing a successor while quietly
fading into retirement are quite rare, not to say unprecedented."
Arafat is currently facing a June 25 deadline for the reorganization
of his Cabinet, lest he face a no-confidence vote from the Palestinian Legislative
Council. Arafat was scheduled to meet this week with all Palestinian factions, in an
effort to bring opponents of the peace process into his Cabinet. However, he unexpectedly
postponed a planned meeting with the militant group Hamas on June 16 -- in order to first
meet with his own Fatah party, said one Arafat aide. The anonymous aide told the
Associated Press that Arafat wants to bring opponents of the peace process into his
cabinet to match Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's ploy of using the presence of
hardliners in his government as an excuse for not compromising. The Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine and Hamas have both expressed unwillingness to enter the Arafat
government until he stamps out corruption in the PNA.
Hamas is also riding it's own wave of support, following a
successful tour of Arab states by its leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and is unlikely to
submit to a junior role in an Arafat government. However, while there is hope that an
entry of Hamas and other radical groups into the PNA would help divert their activity from
violence, it would complicate a post-Arafat power struggle. There are enough contending
candidates for Arafat's job within the PNA -- and none an heir apparent -- without
throwing a succession battle open to Hamas and the PFLP.
The Arafat resignation rumor and the threatened no-confidence vote
may be just negotiating ploys at present, but Arafat will eventually be gone. That has
always been obvious, and the substantially personality-driven negotiating process has
always had to take into account that future day when today's agreements will have to be
upheld by unknown politicians. But if Arafat is actually ill, the issue becomes suddenly
more real and immediate, and the potential threat of a Hamas-led PNA in the near future
will only further bolster a conservative Israeli approach to the peace process.
From: Global Intelligence Update - June 18, 1998