Arafat in political tug-of-war

After marathon talks lasting several days, Fatah leaders agreed to allow the ''emergency government", headed by Ahmad Quraya, to function for 30 days.

    Palestinian head seen as having an autocratic style of rule

    But the temporary nature of the government underlines the tug-of-war now taking place at the top of Palestinian poltics.

    The agreement by leaders of President Yasir Arafat's Palestinian faction on Sunday will lead to a complete government which will include additional ministers, officials have said.

    “The prime minister and his cabinet, who were sworn in by Arafat, will continue their mission until the end of the month according to the Palestinian law,” said Arafat’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina.

    But one Palestinian Authority official told the compromise reached was only a temporary arrangement between Palestinian Chairman Yasir Arafat and the increasingly independent-minded legislative council.

    Fatah MPs, who dominate the council, were reportedly resigned to accepting the compromise, despite the fact that emergency governments contravene Palestinian law.

    Fatah members said they were inclined to accept Arafat’s decree since the emergency period would last no more than 30 days.

    Arafat under siege

    There are two main reasons for the current political crisis facing the Palestinian Authority.

    Firstly, Arafat refuses to rescind his decree to form the emergency government. Under Palestinian law, Arafat has the right to declare emergency rule, but he does not have the power to appoint an emergency government.

    "The PA seems like a group of people quarrelling for seats on a wrecked ship about to sink” 

    Mustafa al-Barghouthi, secretary-general,
    Palestinian Initiative

    Some observers say Arafat is being stubborn and is trying to regain power lost to the legislative council.

    “Arafat’s insistence on retaining the emergency government has nothing to do with paramount Palestinian national interests. It is only related to his own selfish political interests,” argued Abd al-Sattar Qasim, professor of political science at the Najah National University in Nablus.

    “Arafat’s power lies in his pocket, and he still has a lot of money to give to his cronies and hangers-on,” Kasim added.

    The second reason is Arafat’s opposition to the appointment of his former security chief Nasir Yusuf as interior minister.

    Yusuf was supposed to be sworn in as interior minister last week. However, he did not attend his own appointment ceremony in Ram Allah last week, which was seen as an insult to the Palestinian leader.

    According to the latest compromise, the interior minister portfolio will remain vacant, while the National Security council, headed by Arafat, will oversee internal security.

    Autocratic rule

    Throughout the period preceding al-Aqsa Intifada (1993-2000), Arafat tightly controlled every aspect of the Palestinian Authority.

    Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya is
    hoping to avoid a power struggle

    He held all the reins, controlled all the money and took all the decisions. One could say that Arafat was the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Authority was Arafat.

    But things have changed. At the age of 74, and with increasingly frail health, Arafat has lost much of his power.

    His confinement to his Ram Allah headquarters for the past 20 months has prevented him from exercising effective command and control of the Palestinian Authority, or what has remained of it.

    The collapse of his security agencies - as a result of sustained Israeli attacks - has also weakened his ability to impose his orders.

    Even many of his former loyalists have become more critical of Arafat’s rule.
    Quraya's turn

    For his part, Quraya does not want to repeat the bitter experience of his predecessor Mahmud Abbas, who was forced to resign following a long confrontation with Arafat.

    Quraya reportedly threatened to submit his resignation after it was apparent the legislative council would not approve his emergency government.

    “Arafat’s insistence on retaining the emergency government has nothing to do with paramount Palestinian national interests. It is only related to his own selfish political interests”

    Abd al-Sattar Qasim,
    professor of political science,
    Najah National University

    However, he reconsidered the resignation after he was assured that Arafat would not attempt to undermine his authority as prime minister.

    But there are reports that Quraya has submitted about 15 conditions if he is to remain prime minister.

    Among those conditions is the appointment of Nasr Yusuf as interior minister and granting him executive powers, including control over PA security forces.

    This could mean the same stand-off which toppled the Abbas government could happen again.

    However, unlike Abbas who had little support within Fatah, Quraya enjoys significant support in the legislative council of which he had been its speaker for 10 years.

    Public frustration

    But in the middle of all the political jockeying is the Palestinian public, which faces a sensitive dilemma.

    It feels an obligation to defend leaders whom Israel says it will kill or expel. But it has also grown increasingly frustrated with its leadership, or lack of it.

    Mustafa Al-Barghuthi, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Initiative, a pro-democracy thinktank and lobby group, called for the creation of a national unity leadership, saying the Palestinian people “needs a leadership not a government”.

    “The Palestinian public is angry and feels greatly affronted by what is happening," he said. "The PA seems like a group of people quarrelling for seats on a wrecked ship about to sink.”

    SOURCE: Aljazeera



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