Yasser Arafat has weathered many crises in his 35 years as the
leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but this is
one storm from which he may find it difficult to recover.
President Arafat is caught in a whirlwind that began to spin out
of control over a weekend of near anarchy in the Gaza Strip. His
chief police commander there was kidnapped Friday, as were four
French aid workers. On Saturday, his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia,
tendered his resignation. By Sunday, Mr. Arafat's decision to
appoint his cousin as head of Gaza's security in place of the
deposed police chief was met with outrage by young activists and
members of his Fatah faction of the PLO.
Slipping toward a new nadir, Palestinians say that their leader
will survive only by forcing a sea change in his 10-year-old
Palestinian Authority, not by simply shifting around members of the
"The solution must be more radical than that - the change of a
few people," says Hafez Barghouthi, editor of Al Hayat Al Jadida
newspaper in Ramallah.
"We are very tired of the same faces, the same ministers, the
same security chiefs, the same politicians," says Mr. Barghouthi.
"If Arafat wants to have success, he must take other measures, not
just put his relatives into place here and there. Give the
intelligentsia or some other people a chance. Things must change
drastically, and until now, no changes been made."
They are pointed words, coming as they do from a paper founded
primarily as a platform for the Palestinian Authority's party line.
And they represent the degree to which the margin of error that
Arafat has with Palestinians is narrowing, and how quickly and
deftly he must act if he is to regain control over the 3.8 million
Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For several months, it has been clear that Gaza, the long-
troubled slice of land from which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon has promised to withdraw in the near future, would test the
Palestinian leadership's ability to assert control.
What is only now becoming apparent is that groups jostling for
power in the Gaza of tomorrow are not waiting until the last Israeli
settlers and soldiers are pulled out. Instead, they are trying to
establish their supremacy as soon as possible.
But those efforts, as well as the widespread resentment over
corruption and lack of reform, are spiraling into a situation that
Mr. Qureia deplored as "unprecedented chaos."
Even after a meeting between the two top Palestinian officials in
Ramallah Sunday, Qureia refused Arafat's attempts to bring him back
to his post. A final decision on his resignation appeared to be
pushed off until a Palestinian cabinet meeting expected Monday.
In addition to the turmoil in Gaza within Arafat's Fatah faction
and the bouts of arm-wrestling over control of the seaside strip
when Israel leaves, Arafat and Qureia have been contending with a
diplomatic debacle in the Palestinians' relations with the United
Nations. The UN's special envoy to the Palestinians, Terje Roed-
Larson, delivered a speech in New York recently that painted a grim
picture of the state of governance in the Palestinian Authority.
Soon thereafter, senior PA officials announced that Mr. Roed-Larson
was "persona non grata" and would not be welcome back into the
Palestinian territories - the diplomatic equivalent of telling the
UN's senior ambassador here to take a hike.
The growing restlessness with the existing leadership and its
lack of reforms have put the spotlight on Mohammed Dahlan. …