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June 1998
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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 Intelligence Update":



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




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