Vol. 3, No. 20 3 March 2004
What Happened to Reform of the Palestinian Authority?
Dan Diker and Khaled Abu Toameh
According to public opinion polls, Palestinians support an end to rampant corruption and lawlessness, which they increasingly associate with Yasser Arafat. A Palestinian poll released on February 9, 2004, revealed that only 27 percent of the Palestinian public expressed "strong support" for Arafat.
According to Israeli and American assessments, Arafat has engaged in "a willing suspension of control" since 1994, following a strategy of "organized chaos" and playing security forces against one another to prevent any one group from becoming too powerful. As a result, the PA has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public since it has left the control of Palestinian cities and towns to competing armed militants and terror groups.
Since Israel's Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, there has been a growing chorus of criticism of Arafat by Palestinian legislators, academics, and NGO leaders.
Palestinian reformers have refrained from demanding the complete cessation of violence against Israel. Former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross noted that Palestinian reformers have not offered any concrete suggestions for tackling the problem of Palestinian terror and incitement.
According to Ramallah banker Omar Ibrahim Karsou, who has called for Arafat's ouster and the replacement of the entire PA leadership, Palestinians want first to regain normalcy in their everyday lives. That means an end to violence, full employment including the possibility of working in Israel, and the ability to travel freely throughout the territories.
Anarchy in Palestinian-Controlled Areas
The latest Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem - one on February 22, 2004, that killed eight Israelis and wounded more than 65 others, and one on January 29, 2004, that killed 11 people and wounded 50 - are the latest indications of the Palestinian Authority's failure to reform its security forces, as called for by President Bush, the Quartet, and the U.S.-backed road map to peace.
These terrorist assaults confirm the current anarchy in the Palestinian-controlled areas and in the PA security forces, in particular. The terrorists in both bombings were members of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's PLO Fatah faction. The bomber in the January 29 attack, 24-year-old Ali Ja'arah from the PA-controlled city of Bethlehem, was a PA policeman and also a member of Hamas. Arafat's continued control of the Palestinian cabinet, parliament, and security forces has blocked security and political reforms, as well as attempts to create financial transparency in the PA.
Palestinians Support an End to Corruption and Lawlessness
According to public opinion polls, Palestinians support an end to rampant corruption and lawlessness.1 The Palestinian street now believes it has the moral high ground opposite an isolated Arafat and a failed PA, especially after paying the price of 3,000 dead in the "Al Aksa intifada." In an unprecedented move, on February 7, 2004, more than 300 members of Arafat's own Fatah party resigned en masse due to the PA's failure to end official corruption and Arafat's refusal to enact democratic reforms.2 Furthermore, a Palestinian poll released on February 9, 2004, revealed that only 27 percent of the Palestinian public expressed "strong support" for Arafat.3
Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid and West Bank reformer Omar Ibrahim Karsou (whose outspoken criticism of Arafat forced him to flee Ramallah in 2001) have even called for the deployment of Jordanian, Egyptian, and Turkish troops to exercise security responsibility for Gaza and parts of the West Bank until a new, more legitimate, and democratic Palestinian leadership emerges.4
One example of what Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie termed "the chaos of weapons" occurred on February 18, 2004, when masked gunmen opened fire at PA Health Minister Jawad Tibi in Jenin.5 In another incident, in early February 2003, members of the PA Preventative Security forces stormed the Gaza City headquarters of the PA civilian police, killing one police officer and wounding 10 others. According to Palestinian sources, the attackers, dispatched by former Minister of Security Mohammed Dahlan, beat up Gaza Police Commissioner Ghazi Jabali for having publicly insulted Dahlan.
Arafat Continues to Undermine PA Reform Attempts
It is well known in Palestinian circles that Arafat was responsible for sabotaging the reformist former PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned in September 2003 after only four months in office. Abbas had committed the Palestinians to ending terrorism as a political tool and implementing full political and financial reform. Yet Arafat employed almost every possible tactic to undermine Abbas and was intent on proving that Washington's attempts to sideline him as PA leader were doomed to fail.
In October 2003, Arafat appointed long-time Fatah loyalist and Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurie as prime minister. Arafat also appointed long-time confidant Hakam Balaawi, a novelist and playwright, as interior minister,6 while simultaneously naming himself head of the newly established National Security Council. Balaawi immediately implemented Arafat's decision to re-divide control over PA security forces between different commands in Gaza and the West Bank, thereby erasing all the security reforms that had been previously ordered by Abbas and Dahlan.7
Arafat's Strategy of "Organized Chaos"
According to Israeli and American assessments, Arafat has engaged in "a willing suspension of control" since 1994. As chairman of both the Palestinian Authority and the PLO terror organization, Arafat has played security forces against one another, a move that has prevented any one group from becoming too powerful.8 A West Bank Palestinian who recently lost a family member to factional violence described the PA as a thousand competing authorities each with its own militia.9 As a result, the PA has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public since it has left the control of Palestinian cities and towns to competing armed militants and terror groups.10
While most Israeli and Western media reports have focused on Palestinian terror and IDF responses, scores of local Palestinians have also been killed by the reigning anarchy. In the city of Nablus, for example, dozens of local residents have been summarily executed as collaborators or have been caught in the deadly crossfire of gang feuds over profitable rackets in stolen cars, drugs, and extortion.11 The PA has neither prosecuted nor arrested any suspects, who continue to roam West Bank streets terrorizing the local population. Despite his declared commitment to the road map, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said he has no intention of forcibly uprooting Palestinian terror groups. "We will not confront, we will not go for a civil war," he said.12
Ongoing Corruption Undermines Palestinian Reform
In November 2003, the CBS program "60 Minutes" revealed that Arafat controls a secret portfolio worth at least one billion dollars that has been skimmed from public Palestinian funds since the establishment of the PA in 1993. According to the program, whose meticulous research was assisted by reformist Palestinian Finance Minister Salim Fayad, himself a former IMF official, Arafat maintains secret investments in a Ramallah-based Coca Cola plant, a Tunisian cellphone company, and venture capital funds in the U.S. and the Cayman Islands.13 A BBC investigation the same month revealed that Arafat was distributing $50,000 monthly to hundreds of members of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade.14 While Fayad nearly resigned on a number of occasions, he has been partially successful in implementing a direct deposit system for paying the salaries of thousands of PA workers, designed to end the system of cash payments by Arafat through which he had wielded much of his power.
Bolder Palestinian Calls for Reform
On January 29, 2004, former Arafat advisor Imad Shakur, writing in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, blamed Arafat for "failing to govern, and for turning the Palestinian Authority into an amalgam of fronts and militias ruled by extremists."15 Shakur demanded that Arafat end the intifada and disarm terror groups such as the PLO's Tanzim. Shakur's article was reprinted by the PA's main newspaper, Al Ayam, published in Ramallah; in the competing Al Quds, published in Jerusalem; and in the Jordanian newspaper A-Ra'i.16
In fact, since Israel's Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002, there has been a growing chorus of criticism of Arafat by Palestinian legislators, academics, and NGO leaders, including former cabinet minister Abdel Fattah Hamayel, PLC legislator Husam Khader, former Minister of Agriculture Abdel Jawad Saleh, and Mohammed Muqbel, a senior PLO official and director in the Ministry of Sport. A number of these reformers and other Palestinians have been arrested and beaten for their direct criticisms of Arafat and his loyalists in the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian newspapers have publicized reform efforts, albeit carefully, largely limiting their reporting to coverage of local NGO-sponsored academic seminars on reform. Local Palestinian and Arab reporters are well aware of the dangers of criticizing Arafat and his senior loyalists by name, however, resulting in broad self-censorship. But Palestinian journalists have begun to battle the PA's muzzling of the local press. On February 15, 2004, 200 Palestinian journalists marched into the chamber of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City and refused to leave until a senior Arafat aide promised to launch an investigation into attacks on Palestinian journalists.17
While some Palestinian leaders have demanded an end to armed militias, Palestinian reformers have refrained from demanding the complete cessation of violence against Israel.18 Former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross noted that Palestinian reformers have not offered any concrete suggestions for tackling the problem of Palestinian terror and incitement.19 One Washington, D.C.-based Palestinian affairs analyst noted that Palestinian reformers have "disembodied" political violence from their corpus of demands for democratic reforms to maintain credibility with the Palestinian public that largely supports terror actions against Israel.
Ramallah banker Omar Ibrahim Karsou has called for Arafat's ouster and the replacement of the entire PA leadership. According to Karsou, "Arafat's brutal dictatorship, corrupt rule, and use of terror and incitment have prevented a democratic Palestinian state from emerging."20 Karsou is part of a group of West Bankers with strong ties to Jordan who believe that the key to a stable Palestinian government is to replace the Fatah-dominated PLC with a broad-based representative Palestinian leadership stemming from local democratic governing councils in the West Bank and Gaza where there had been strong local leadership before Arafat's arrival in 1994.
Karsou also noted that Israel can do much to advance the interests of local Palestinian leaders like himself by making some magnanimous gestures to assuage the overriding fear among Palestinians that Israel is still interested in annexing the entire West Bank.
According to Karsou, Palestinians want first to regain normalcy in their everyday lives. That means an end to violence, full employment including the possibility of working in Israel, and the ability to travel freely throughout the territories. "Once Palestinians establish and enforce the rule of law and create a new sense of trust with Israel, we can move forward in the democratic nation-building process and negotiate final status issues in due course," he said.21
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1. According to recent Palestinian public opinion polls, 50-80 percent of Palestinians demand an immediate "reorganization of the Palestinian Home." Dr. Khalil Shikaki also made reference to this in a presentation to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in October 2002.
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2. Wafa Amr, "Hundreds Resign En-Masse from Arafat's Fatah Group," Reuters, February 7, 2004.
3. Poll no. 120, Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO), prepared by Dr. Nabil Kukali, February 9, 2004.
4. Bassem Eid, "The Rule of the Thugs," Ha'aretz, January 28, 2004. These comments were reiterated in an interview with Palestinian dissident Omar Ibrahim Karsou, February 3, 2004.
5. Arnon Regular, "Palestinian Health Minister Survives Restaurant Shooting," Ha'aretz, February 18, 2004.
6. Arnon Regular, "Arafat Continues to Divide and Rule the Security Forces," Ha'aretz, November 13, 2003.
7. Regular, "Arafat Continues to Divide."
8. Ehud Yaari, "The Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation: Toward a Divorce," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 2, Number 2, June 30, 2002. See also Professor Nathan Brown, "The Palestinian Reform Agenda," Peaceworks, U.S. Institute for Peace Studies, Washington, D.C., December 2002, p. 36; http://www.usip.org/pubs/peaceworks/pwks48.html.
9. Mark Heinrich, "Anarchy in Nablus Evokes Disorder of Arafat's Rule," Reuters, February 5, 2004.
10. Eid, "Rule of Thugs."
11. Heinrich, "Anarchy in Nablus."
12. Mohammed Daraghmeh, "Palestinian Security Nominee Refuses Oath," Associated Press, October 7, 2003.
13. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Closing the Books on Arafat," Jerusalem Post, November 13, 2003.
14. Abu Toameh, "Closing the Books."
15. Nazir Majally, "Something Important is Happening in the PA," Ha'aretz, February 6, 2004.
16. Majally, "Something Important."
17. Khaled Abu Toameh, "Arafat Meets the Fourth Estate," Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2004.
18. Brown, "The Palestinian Reform Agenda," p. 39.
19. Dennis Ross, "Requirements for Reform in the Palestinian Authority," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, October 2002.
20. Interview with Omar Ibrahim Karsou, November 29, 2003.
21. Interview with Omar Ibrahim Karsou, February 22, 2004.
Dan Diker is a Knesset and economic affairs reporter for Israel Broadcasting Authority's English News, and media affairs consultant at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs. Khaled Abu Toameh reports on Palestinian affairs for the Jerusalem Post.
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