While President Yasir Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas fight over who’s boss, Ariel Sharon is consolidating Israel’s grip over Palestinian land.

There is speculation Abbas may quit if he is not given more powers during a crunch meeting on Thursday.

He is due to address the Palestinian parliament to report on his performance four months after being appointed under international pressure.

To many observers Abbas’s achievements can be summed up in two words - precisely nil.

His only real accomplishment – the truce called between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel – has evaporated in a hail of bullets and bombs.

 

Washington's man

Abbas is the most senior Palestinian leader after Arafat and one of the few surviving founder members of Fatah - the main political group in the PLO.

However, he suffers from having no democratic mandate and from being Washington’s preferred choice as prime minister.

In fact, he was thrust upon Arafat in May with a remit to crack down on resistance groups and to deliver the so-called roadmap to peace.

Upon assuimg office, he immediately called for a halt to armed attacks on Israeli targets.

But Sharon’s true attitude to him was made clear by his government’s conduct before their first meeting on 17 May.

Sharon rebuke

Thousands of Israeli troops launched two major offensives against towns in Gaza on 15 and 16 May, killing more than 20 Palestinians, almost all of them civilians.

Sharon must be licking his lips as
Abbas and Sharon fight it out
  

Sharon also announced a decision to permit Jews to pray at al-Haram al-Sharif.

Both moves came at a time when Abbas was hoping to persuade Palestinians to support him to make the "roadmap" work.

Eager to justify his government’s existence, Abass requested Israel accept the roadmap unconditionally.

This Sharon refused to do, and Abbas left with absolutely no result except the dubious honour of having met the Butcher of Beirut.

Mr Palestine

Arafat, meanwhile, still relishes his position as "Mr Palestine".

For decades he has been the unchallenged leader of the Palestinian people and their symbol of statehood.

And to his credit, he has done more than anyone else to keep the Palestinians' cause in the headlines.

But his refusal to share power or delegate is legendary and he probably sees Abbas, his long-term ally, as a threat. 

Obsessive

According to his biographers, Arafat has an obsessive desire to get his way and brooks no challenge to his authority.

He was even rumoured to have signed every single PLO cheque for years. Keeping such a tight control on Palestinian finances has opened him to accusations of corruption and dictatorial behaviour over the years.

And since Abbas's appointment he has done everything possible to curtail his comrade's powers.

His most recent rebuke to the prime minister was the appointment of Abbas's rival, Jibril Rajub, as security minister. 

 

Brutal occupation 

 

Moreover, many analysts believe Arafat has yet again got the upper hand in a power struggle with one of his rivals.

 

Effectively confined to his Ramallah compound for the last two years, he has the sympathy and support of the Palestinian people and much of the international community.

But even if he does succeed in sidelining Abbas he would only have secured his own dominance over the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, the Israelis will continue to have free reign to pursue their brutal occupation of Palestine.