Jeff Abramowitz, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Wednesday 28 July 2004
Last Update 28 July 2004 12:00 am
RAMALLAH, 28 July 2004 — Outwardly, it was a show of reconciliation as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his Premier Ahmed Qorei told a Ramallah news conference Yesterday that they have ended their 10-day rift.
Qorei said he was retracting his resignation, submitted on July 17, now that Arafat has assured him that the minister of the interior and the attorney-general would have more powers, the former over the security forces and the latter to go after corrupt officials.
But behind the brotherly kiss the two men exchanged, and the arms raised in joint brotherhood, Palestinians were wondering whether the political crisis was really over, or whether the next round had merely been postponed. Officials noted that Arafat has given the Cabinet increased powers, but skeptical observers pointed out that while Arafat made similar assurances in the past, he never acted on them.
Just how much power Arafat conceded this time remained an open question.
The most prominent dispute between the two men during the 10-day standoff centered around the Palestinian security forces, which are effectively controlled by Arafat or his proxies. Qorei, when resigning, cited his inability to handle growing lawlessness as one of the main reasons.
Yesterday Qorei said he and the president had agreed to give the security forces full authority to control the situation. This, he said, would take place “on the basis of the unification of the security forces into three units”.
And although the minister of the interior now has increased powers over the forces, observers noted that they, or the bulk of them, would still come under the control of the Palestinian National Security Council, which is headed by Arafat.
Reform of the various and varied Palestinian security forces is a prime demand of the international community and is one of the points mentioned in the international “road map” peace plan which charts an end to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Despite the seeming harmony at Yesterday ’s news conference, the feeling among observers who attended was that Qorei had, for all his outward show, backed down almost totally. A rumor doing the rounds said that if the crisis dragged on, Arafat was prepared to mobilize his loyalists to demonstrate in his support and paint Qorei as trying to overthrow the president.
Qorei, they said, feared that if the impasse continued, he could find himself heading for the same fate as his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas, who last year challenged Arafat, lost and is now languishing in political limbo.
A similar charge of trying to overthrow Arafat has also been leveled at former Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dhahlan, who is widely believed to have a hand in, if not be actually orchestrating, the wave of demonstrations in the Gaza Strip in favor of reform and an end to corruption.
Although Dhahlan has said the demonstrations are not aimed at Arafat but at “the corrupt officials” surrounding him, it is widely believed he is staking out political territory for when Israel leaves the Gaza Strip as part of its unilateral disengagement plan.
The question unresolved after Yesterday was whether the Gaza demonstrators would now be satisfied with the assurances of reform, however partial, or whether they would continue their protests.