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Last Update: 11/08/2004 06:40
Palestinian lawmakers: Arafat evading promises of reform
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Services

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is evading many of the promises of reform he made during effort to stave off a leadership crisis in the PA, disappointed legislators said Tuesday after meeting him twice.

Arafat showed no sign of relinquishing his absolute control over Palestinian security forces, they said, a key demand from not only Palestinian reformers but also the United States, Egypt and Israel.

In the wake of a Palestinian Legislative Council inquiry blaming the PA and Arafat for the anarchy in the territories in the past month, Arafat announced earlier Tuesday that he is offering cabinet posts to two of his most outspoken critics.

Both former Gaza Strip security chief Mohammed Dahlan and Fatah leader Samir Mashrawi played major roles in mass demonstrations held in Gaza protesting Arafat's appointment of cousin Musa Arafat to a top security position and calling for reforms within the PA.

The PLC investigation found that the main reason for the chaos in the Palestinian territories is that the PA and Arafat have failed to make a clear political decision to end it.

The report also calls for an end to Qassam rocket fire into Israel and attacks inside Israel, the resignation of the members of the Qureia government and general elections.

"The main reason for the failure of the Palestinian security forces and their lack of action in restoring law and order," says the report prepared by the five-member PLC committee, "is the total lack of a clear political decision and no definition of their roles, either for the long term or the short."

The PLC panel last month interviewed dozens of people, ranging from Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to leading commanders of security forces, as well as Fatah activists from all over Gaza. The testimony is strikingly frank, and includes charges that the PA leadership failed to build state institutions so it ended up using clan mechanisms instead of the law to deal with out-of-control armed factions.

The report calls on Arafat and Qureia to define in law the role of the security forces, and to issue presidential orders to operate them until those laws are passed. The report also lashes out at the National Security Council that Arafat heads, for failing to set security strategy. It calls on Arafat "to use his authority to issue immediate orders to end all the dangerous activity taking place in the Gaza Strip by some of the commanders and men of the armed security forces intimidating the citizenry, creating chaos and harming the supreme interests of the Palestinian people."

The panel included Arafat loyalists as well as reformers, including Nabil Amr, who was shot at the height of the chaos and subsequently had to have his leg amputated. The committee was set up in early July against the background of a deteriorating rule of law and order in the territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip, during the preceding months. At the height of its deliberations came the dramatic series of clashes, kidnappings and even shootouts between various Palestinian security factions.

The committee held back its final report until things had calmed down on the Palestinian side. In the coming days, Dahlan, who has claimed the reformer's position, is due to meet with Arafat, ostensibly to settle the differences between them. Arafat was given the report's conclusions during the crisis of the past month.

The panel heard testimony from various people, including Qureia and top security officers, journalists, Fatah activists from all over Gaza and others.

Qureia appeared before the panel on July 17, a few hours after Arafat conducted a shake-up in security appointments in Gaza, including naming his cousin Musa Arafat as head of security in Gaza, which sparked turmoil throughout the Strip. Qureia tried, mostly in vain, to rebuff criticism from the panel members. "The government's hesitation occurs because it is determined to continue trying to reach understandings with President Arafat."

Apparently understanding that the panel would call for his resignation, the PA premier reiterated many times during his testimony that he inherited the chaos and had done his best to deal with it. He said made great efforts to assuage the members of Fatah's armed wing, trying to take care of them financially and politically, to calm down the situation. On July 17, he was still talking about his determination to resign as prime minister, but declared himself ready to serve under any new premier. Within a few days, he withdrew his resignation.

On July 14, PA Interior Minister Hakim Balawi gave revealing testimony. He refrained from mentioning Arafat by name, but his words were clearly aimed at the PA chairman.

"We lost control because of hesitation in the decision-making process, and because we did not speak to the street about what we wanted and about the political situation ... The National Security Council is the address for security responsibility. But in Gaza all that exists are symbols of PA authority. There is readiness on the part of the security forces, we have tens of thousands of security men, but there is no clear and sincere decision and the political plan is not defined.

"... It is prohibited to launch rockets and to fire weapons from houses, and that is a supreme Palestinian interest that should not be violated because the result is barbaric retaliation by the occupying army and the citizenry cannot accept such shooting. Those who do it are a certain group that does not represent the people and nation, doing it without thinking about the general interest and public opinion in the world and in Israel. There is no vision or purpose to the missiles; the Palestinian interest is more important," Balawi said.

"Sharon conducted his policy unobstructed for a long time, until The Hague decision about the fence came along and changed everything. But nonetheless, we continue to take the illogical path and don't recognize international and regional developments."

According to Balawi, the past four months of security coordination with Israel have resulted in no suicide bombings - "but we still use the rhetoric that does not believe in a hudna [cease-fire] and an agreement, saying that all of Palestine belongs to the Waqf [Muslim religious trust]. These are Hamas slogans."

The next day, the chief of General Intelligence in Gaza, Amin al Hindi, appeared before the panel. He blamed "a lack of institutions, from the outset, a lack of rules and regulations, with no clear goals and no unequivocal handling of the security forces.

"Nobody was put on trial for violating rules because there were no rules, and since there were no budgets, security forces began operating at the whim of their commanders, and doing what others, like the NSC, were not doing, looking for new authority for themselves. The hidden unemployment inside the security forces and the inflated number of security people resulted in enormous resources being wasted on workers who were not suited for the services.

"Proper management requires each force to select its people according to its needs and missions. But there is a vagueness about authority. The General Intelligence force is directly subordinate to Arafat but administratively and financially it is subordinate to other people and the forces have no independence when it comes to appointments, promotions or punishments for their people. The forces cannot defend themselves and people are sometimes forced to find self-protection in the form of their clans and families," al Hindi said.

He went on to point out that the PA courts are weak, "the police make us release criminals and collaborators. My investigators are subject to threats from the families and relatives of people under arrest on criminal and security charges.

"The plans to improve the situation are not being implemented because of a lack of a commitment by all to change, and because of narcissism. My mission is to implement political decisions concerning security and the responsibility is on the shoulders of the political decision maker.

"And there is another important reason," said al Hindi. "Yasser Arafat's orders go out to a large number of security commanders, sometimes to ten at once, and ultimately, nobody actually carries them out."

Al Hindi said that "political decisions have to be made by Arafat, even if they are not spoken publicly," to help execute security missions.

Three days later, Rashid Abu Shbak, head of Preventive Security in Gaza and a Dahlan ally, appeared before the panel. He said security was at an all-time low in Gaza, and while he blamed the occupation for the deterioration "of security and social norms," some of the blame for the situation falls on the PA. He said "most of the security forces do not have discipline or control over their people. Each organization does what it wants and imposes its will on the PA, and no side can say it is in control.

"Shooting rockets from Beit Hanun creates an excuse for a new occupation and the citizenry is helpless. Most of the militiamen represent the general atmosphere instead of the law and order and the PA. It is threatening the entire national project ... we have been handling the problems all wrong. We discuss the problem with the person who created it and give into their illegal demands ... we encouraged this and accepted it, against the law and against the very spirit of statehood. There is no deterrence of criminals and collaborators, and we are forced to deal with problems using clan methods, rather than legal methods. If this continues, it will send difficult messages to our people, to the Israelis who claim there is no Palestinian partner and to the international community, that we don't deserve a state."
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat looks on during the Palestinian Islamic Christians Conference at his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Tuesday. (AP)
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