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Israeli security sources believe Yasser Arafat is strengthening his hold on the Palestinian Authority ahead of a meeting between his newly appointed Prime Minister Abu Mazen and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The sources point to evidence Arafat is handling duties that should have been transferred to the prime minister, including allocation of funds and involvement with Palestinian security organizations, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
The amount of funds Arafat has been distributing lately, for various purposes, is described by the sources as an avalanche. He recently approved and signed, for example, an urgent request for $20,000 to provide material to make uniforms for Palestinian police.
Israeli military intelligence and the Shin Bet domestic security service are in rare agreement that Abu Mazen is showing weaking in the face of Arafat’s maneuvers, Ha’aretz said, noting a flurry of recent terrorist alerts, including 58 this week.
“Abu Mazen won no victory over Arafat,” an Israeli security source said. “He formed a cabinet only under Egyptian and American pressure. The cabinet’s legitimacy is shaky, it acts in Arafat’s shadow and is burdened by huge expectations. Abu Mazen is starting out bruised and bleeding, and must navigate his way among three mine fields – Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.”
The Israeli daily said Abu Mazen is having difficulty gaining public support, which he needs in order to declare war on the terrorist organizations.
At the moment, his approach to the leading Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is negotiation. But Ha’aretz said talks have been fraught with mistakes, alienating Arafat’s Fatah and forcing Abu Mazen to give in to Arafat repeatedly.
In past weeks, the security sources said, Arafat has re-emerged as the one holding the purse strings, allocating funds to a variety of entities, including Fatah activists in Bethlehem and security groups in Jenin.
A senior Palestinian reportedly was asked by an Israeli officer what would happen if Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad decided not to approve the allocations.
He said: “Woe betide Fayyad if he fails to implement an order Arafat signed.”
Ha’aretz said despite the difficulties, some Fatah activists expect Abu Mazen and his men to confront Hamas. But first, Palestinian security organizations must rebuild at least some degree of confidence with their Israeli colleagues. Recent events, however, suggest that is a nearly impossible task.
Yesterday, for example, three armed Palestinians told Israeli Defense Forces they were PA policemen on patrol but turned out to be, according to Israel, Islamic Jihad activists. The Palestinians attacked the soldiers, south of Netzarim, and were killed.