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Haphazard leadership.

THE PAINT IS slowly flaking off the walls of the whitewashed villa which has served as Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Tunis for the past 10 years. The sorry state of the villa is a fitting epitaph epitaph, strictly, an inscription on a tomb; by extension, a statement, usually in verse, commemorating the dead. The earliest such inscriptions are those found on Egyptian sarcophagi.  for the PLO PLO
Palestine Liberation Organization

PLO Palestine Liberation Organization

Noun 1. PLO
, as it struggles to make the painful mutation from a revolutionary movement in exile to a national government, with Arafat as the midwife.

The agreement with Israel on limited Palestinian autonomy in the Occupied Territories This article is about occupied territory in general: for more specific discussion of the territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War, see Israeli-occupied territories.

Occupied territories
 signed last September in Washington has strained the unity of the PLO to breaking point. Senior officials have broken ranks and sided with opponents of the deal, while loyalists Loyalists, in the American Revolution, colonials who adhered to the British cause. The patriots referred to them as Tories. Although Loyalists were found in all social classes and occupations, a disproportionately large number were engaged in commerce and the  who supported the accord have been alienated by Arafat's haphazard and autocratic style of leadership.

Under siege, amid continuing calls for greater democracy and collective decision-making, Arafat is facing one of the toughest tests in his more than 20 years as the PLO's chairman.

The "old man" (as he has long since been called) has seen off challenges to his leadership in the past. But this time round he is under assault from all sides. The accord with Israel provoked a wave of resignations from the ruling Executive Committee. The leading Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish Mahmoud Darwish (Arabic: محمود درويش; born 1941 in Al-Birwah, British Mandate of Palestine) is a contemporary Palestinian poet and writer of prose. , quit before the agreement was signed.

The organisation's veteran representative in Lebanon, Shafiq al Hout, suspended his membership and later stepped down. Representatives from rejectionist factions - the Democratic Front, the Popular Front and the Arab Liberation Front Arab Liberation Front (Arabic: جبهة التحرير العربية, jabha at-tahrir al-arabiya  - all jumped ship, leaving a reduced Executive Committee, with only 12 out of the original 18 members.

For the many of the revolutionary old guard of the PLO, the dream is over. "The PLO, which was established in 1964, is now finished," says a bitter Abdullah Hourani, the head of the PLO's cultural department. Hourani, one of the senior figures who stepped down from the Executive Committee, accused Arafat of forgetting about the Palestinians who became refugees when Israel was created in 1948.

"I will not get my right to go back to my homeland. I will not get my right to self-determination, my right to have my own independent state. This agreement closed the door to these aims of the Palestinians," argues Hourani, who fled his home town of Haifa after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Senior PLO figures who expressed reservations about the agreement have been slowly edged out by Arafat, who will not tolerate any dissent. Among the casualties are two of the founding members of the mainstream PLO Fateh faction, the Al Hassan brothers, Khaled and Hani. Khaled al Hassan, an elder statesman of the PLO, was absent from the arguments in Tunis on the accord with Israel as he was in Morocco, convalescing from a heart operation.

Hani al Hassan Abu Tarek, Abu-l-Hasan was a Fatah leader. He was born in 1939, in Haifa. He spent time as a refugee in Yarmuk camp, near Damascus, where he organised an Islamist slate, Shabab al-Aqsa, to compete in student elections. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in early 1950s.  invoked Arafat's ire by his vocal opposition within Fateh and was elbowed out as one of the faction's members on the PLO's interim parliament, the Central Council. When he turned up for a crucial meeting in October, during which the Council approved the self-rule deal, Al Hassan was refused entry. His seat on the Council, together with those of three other critics, were filled by Arafat loyalists.

More worrying for the PLO leader is the rise of a significant movement of protest against him from Palestinians from both inside and outside the Occupied Territories, who have supported the peace deal. Arafat's dictatorial and secretive leanings have risen at the same pace as growing dissent, and now even former loyalists are questioning his leadership.

Few want to see Arafat replaced as head of the PLO since no-one serves as such a powerful symbol. But many believe that key decisions about the future of the Palestinian cause can no longer be left up to one man.

The crisis has been brought to a head by preparations for the transfer of authority to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip Gaza Strip (gäz`ə), (2003 est. pop. 1,330,000) rectangular coastal area, c.140 sq mi (370 sq km), SW Asia, on the Mediterranean Sea adjoining Egypt and Israel, in what was formerly SW Palestine.  and Jericho in the West Bank. The delay in the start of the Israeli withdrawal, originally scheduled for 13 December, came as something of a blessing to the PLO, which was in no way prepared to assume the running of the Territories.

Crucial decisions on the composition of the Palestinian National Authority Noun 1. Palestinian National Authority - combines the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under a political unit with limited autonomy and a police force; created in 1993 by an agreement between Israel and the PLO
Palestine Authority, Palestine National Authority
 to be set up have been delayed time and time again as PLO officials and Palestinians from the Territories compete for posts. The only firm appointment is that of Arafat himself as head of the authority. The fear is that the PLO leader will try to pack the authority with his cronies so as to have the same control over a future administration as he has over the PLO.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the choice of members for the Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction which will manage the millions of dollars pledged in international assistance for Gaza and Jericho.

Arafat is used to controlling the purse strings purse strings or purse·strings
Financial support or resources, or control over them: the politicians who control federal purse strings; tightened the corporate purse strings.
 of the PLO, and wanted to ensure he is in charge of the aid for the Palestinian administration.

Thus it came as no surprise that Arafat should name himself head of the 60-seat Council, with politicians rather than economic professionals filling most of the other posts. The appointments exasperated both professionals and Western donors, who have insisted that the Council be independent of internal political considerations. For the World Bank, it is indispensable that the PLO "creates a credible autonomous economic institution and does not play to the political structure."

As a sign of the malaise, the leading Palestinian economist, Youssef Sayigh, resigned from the Council in despair at Arafat's blatant intention to pack the body with political appointees, rather than qualified technocrats. Despite attempts to woo him back on board, Sayigh has remained ambivalent about the Council.

Arafat's idiosyncratic id·i·o·syn·cra·sy  
n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
1. A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

2. A physiological or temperamental peculiarity.

 leadership and use of patronage in handing out posts on the new Palestinian bodies has served to alienate To voluntarily convey or transfer title to real property by gift, disposition by will or the laws of Descent and Distribution, or by sale.

For example, a seller may alienate property by transferring to a buyer a parcel of the seller's land containing a house, in
 even his closest supporters. The architect of the agreement with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas Mahmoud Abbas (Arabic: محمود عباس) (born March 26, 1935), also known by the kunya Abu Mazen , is for all intent and purpose no longer on speaking terms with his chief.

Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, signed the Washington agreement The Washington Agreement was a peace agreement mediated between the warring Bosnian Croats (represented by Croatia) and Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, signed in Washington and Vienna in March 1994. , but he has since been marginalised in negotiations with Israel. He made his displeasure clear in December by boycotting Executive Committee meetings and later leaving for Rabat Rabat (räbät`), city (1994 pop. 787,745), capital of Morocco, on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Bou Regreg estuary, opposite Salé.  in the week when the PLO was involved in delicate discussions with Israel on resolving differences blocking the implementation of the autonomy accord.

Other former Arafat loyalists on the Executive Committee have also made grumbling noises, such as PLO spokesman, Yasser Abd Rabbo Yasser Abd Rabbo (Arabic:ياسر عبد ربه) (Abu Bashar ابو بشار) is a Palestinian politician (b. in Jaffa 1944-). , and the leader of the Palestinian People's Party The Palestinian People's Party (PPP, in Arabic حزب الشعب الفلسطيني Hizb al-Sha'b al-Filastini), founded in 1982 as the Palestinian Communist Party , Suleiman Najjab. The two boycotted an executive meeting in December, in protest at Arafat's failure to consult other officials before making key decisions in negotiations with Israel.

"It is useless to attend these meetings, whose resolutions are totally ignored by the chairman of the Executive Committee," said Najjab at the time. The discontent in Tunis has been aggravated ag·gra·vate  
tr.v. ag·gra·vat·ed, ag·gra·vat·ing, ag·gra·vates
1. To make worse or more troublesome.

2. To rouse to exasperation or anger; provoke. See Synonyms at annoy.
 by Arafat's prolonged absences. The PLO leader has always shown a penchant for travel and his newly-found respectability has enabled him to visit capitals which were out of bounds in the past. It has also enabled him to escape from the pressures in Tunis.

Officials complain Arafat has been absent from headquarters at a time when he should be sitting down to work out the details of the new Palestinian bodies to take over from the Israel administration in Gaza and Jericho. Under pressure from both Executive Committee and Fateh members, Arafat recently agreed to give up sole control of the negotiations with Israel by setting up a committee to oversee the talks.

But this manoeuvre failed to persuade members that Arafat had really changed his stance. Abu Mazen turned down an offer to head the committee, perhaps knowing that the old man would find a way to circumvent it.

Similarly, officials have been working at drawing up a constitution for the new Palestinian authority Palestinian Authority (PA) or Palestinian National Authority, interim self-government body responsible for areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under Palestinian control. . But while critics see this as a way of reining in Arafat, the PLO leader favours a presidential system in which he would have wide-ranging powers.

"The mind of the revolution is very different from the mind of the state," Abu Mazen told a meeting of the PLO Central Council last October. "We must all put on new robes and think with new minds if we are to build this state."

There are few signs that Arafat has absorbed the message in Abu Mazen's words. The PLO leader has traded in his image as a terrorist in the eyes of the West for one of international statesman, but the emperor's new clothes Emperor’s New Clothes

supposedly invisible to unworthy people; in reality, nonexistent. [Dan. Lit.: Andersen’s Fairy Tales]

See : Illusion

Emperor’s New Clothes
 have not changed the habits of a lifetime.
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Title Annotation:Outlook 1994; PLO's Yasser Arafat
Author:Hermida, Alf
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1994
Previous Article:Wary of a takeover bid.
Next Article:Coping with nationalists.

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