Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat's Dangerous Course of Building Personal Power

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arafat's Dangerous Course of Building Personal Power

Article excerpt

At 11 o'clock Sunday night in Gaza, Dr. Eyad Sarraj was released on bail from a Palestinian prison. It was a turning point in a personal drama with implications for all Palestinians - and for Israel.

Sarraj, a Gaza psychiatrist, was arrested by policemen of the Palestinian Authority on May 18. Officials said he was being investigated for "slander" in statements in The New York Times that the Authority was "dictatorial" and "oppressive," making routine use of arbitrary arrests and torture.

Yasser Arafat reacted vindictively to Sarraj's criticism, keeping him locked up for more than a week. But in the end the affair became, more than anything, a test of Arafat's role in the Palestinian future.

Over the decades, as the exile leader, Arafat made himself the symbol of Palestinian aspirations. Whether one saw him as a terrorist or a political figure, he undoubtedly put the Palestinian cause on the world agenda. He lived a dangerous life, and he survived.

More recently he has moved to a second role, that of the peacemaker with Israel. Here he confounded many Israeli skeptics. After long delay he did crack down on Hamas terrorists. And last month he got the Palestine National Council, as promised, to expunge from the PLO covenant passages calling for the destruction of the Israeli state.

Some observers, evidently determined to find that the Oslo peace agreement is not working, say the Palestine National Council did not really take the necessary action.

But Peace Watch, a skeptical group in Israel, said that although a new charter was still to be written and its legal effect was to be seen, "on the political-educational level the decision of the PNC canceling the clauses which contradict the PLO's commitment to recognize Israel and to repudiate the armed struggle is positive and significant."

Now, as president of the Palestinian Authority, Arafat is playing a third role - as the leader of an emerging national polity. And here there are great doubts. For Arafat has not shown the broad-mindedness or the democratic character needed. To the contrary, as the Sarraj affair showed, he has focused on building personal power and sending his people the message that disagreement is dangerous. …

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