Palestinian official slams Arafat

By Aaron Klein

In a rare condemnation for a Palestinian official, former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan yesterday accused embattled Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of “sitting on corpses of Palestinians,” and said if Arafat doesn’t reform his security forces, Dahlan will lead a revolt against the PLO chairman.

“Arafat is sitting on the corpses and destruction of the Palestinians … at a time when they’re desperately in need of a new mentality,” Dahlan told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan.

In another interview yesterday, Dahlan said he wasn’t trying to taint Arafat’s image, but to “correct it so that it will stay beautiful.” If Arafat doesn’t move toward security reform by Aug. 10, Dahlan warned, a “30,000-strong protest movement would demonstrate” in Gaza and “demand reforms.”

Dahlan gave the interview in Jordan where he has been for the past week. Israeli security sources say several top Palestinian leaders have been holding discreet meetings in Amman, where they have been debating the future of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraws from Gaza and parts of the West Bank in 2005.

Sources say the fact that none of the media noticed where the Palestinian notables were heading enabled them to meet off the record and return to Ramallah “with no one the wiser.”

At first, a Palestinian official claimed Dahlan was “misquoted,” but another official admitted Dahlan “might cause the Palestinian leader a lot of trouble in Gaza,” if Arafat again fails to implement reforms that have been demanded of him by Israel, Egypt and America.

Dahlan recently told reporters Palestinian security forces would not allow Arafat to impose his dictatorial rule in Gaza once Israel withdraws. He said Fatah in the West Bank would also start to demonstrate against Arafat’s authority.

“The Palestinian situation is not putting up with any more corruption, and there is no escape aside from reforms that Arafat himself has authorized,” Dahlan said. He said the international assistance the Palestinian Authority received over the years, totaling $5 billion, “have gone down the drain, and we don’t know where.”

Arafat’s policies have brought about a situation in which Palestinians’ lives are in “ruin,” he was further quoted as saying to Al-Watan.

Dahlan, who some say is seeking to raise his leadership profile, has been a leading force in advocating a more democratic Palestinian leadership once Israel vacates Gaza. He said he is calling on young Fatah activists to challenge Arafat and “the old guard” and demand the new generation of Palestinians be given a chance to voice its concerns.