Arafat evades reform – again

By Aaron Klein

Yasser Arafat

Embattled PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat is evading many of the promises of reform he made during a desperate effort to avoid a leadership crisis in the Palestinian Authority last month, disappointed Palestinian legislators said after meeting him twice.

Arafat showed no sign of relinquishing his absolute control over Palestinian security forces, they said, a key demand from the U.S., Egypt and Israel.

The Palestinian Parliament recently set up a 14-member committee to investigate the government crisis and report on reform. Legislators who met with Arafat yesterday say he gave them a three-page letter in which his only concession was a guarantee the prime minister could appoint Cabinet ministers, participants said.

“President Arafat’s letter was not encouraging,” said lawmaker Jamal Shati.

The legislators want Arafat to abide by the Basic Law, which spells out the separation of powers, sign anti-corruption legislation and commit to reforming the security services.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the legislative committee, said “there are issues that President Arafat agreed to, others he is still reluctant to accept.”

For example, Arafat told legislators he was committed to the Basic Law. When asked whether he would cede control of several government institutions, such as the Palestinian Monetary Fund, he said no.

Arafat also avoided a clear answer on security reform, participants said.

Abbas Zaki, who heads the parliamentary committee, said legislators would try to hold one more meeting with Arafat and would issue their final report next week.

In a televised speech to religious leaders yesterday, Arafat made no reference to reform. Instead, he listed complaints about Israeli policies.

In recent weeks, Palestinian legislators have gone public with criticisms of Arafat, breaking with past practice of grumbling only in private. Israeli security sources told WorldNetDaily Palestinian leaders have held a series of private meetings in Jordan, debating what actions to take to fill the leadership vacuum that might be created after Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan is implemented.

Former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan last week 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.

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.”

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