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Palestinian Authority must reform or it will lose support, report warns

JERUSALEM, June 30 (JTA) — An independent, American-European report has taken Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to task, advising him to govern more democratically and effectively or risk losing Palestinian public support. The report, “Strengthening Palestinian Public Institutions,” was presented to Arafat this week in the West Bank town of Ramallah, culminating a yearlong study by a task force chaired by former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard that included five former heads of state and world leaders. Members of the task force highlighted some of the conclusions of the Council of Foreign Relations-sponsored report at a news conference in the West Bank town. While praising the Palestinian Authority for its achievements so far, the task force said much more must be done to build a more participatory political system and develop a free market economy. Arafat has previously been criticized for holding onto too much power, while failing to impose accountability for officials and security forces. His self-rule government has also been criticized for insufficient accountability in the spending of economic assistance funds. The report, project director Henry Siegman said, was intended to prod Arafat to establish more democratic institutions. “We have made it clear that not to reform is not an option,” Siegman said at the news conference. Among the measures the report called on the Palestinian Authority to implement: * Adopt a constitution; * Establish accountability for the executive branch of the legislature; * Centralize public revenues and expenditures in the Finance Ministry; * Ensure independence of the judiciary; * Establish a civilian-controlled police force that would be subject to political, legal and financial oversight by the Palestinian Legislative Council. The report praised the Palestinian Authority’s achievements during the past five years, including the establishment of the self-rule government’s Cabinet, the providing of basic services to the population and the maintenance of public order. But at the same time, the report cited opinion polls that show Palestinian “dissatisfaction with the level of public services, a perception of waste and corruption in the public administration and police, and a loss of faith in the institutions of governance, particularly the Palestinian Legislative Council and the judiciary.” According to the report, Arafat’s failure to bolster confidence through reforms could cost the Palestinian Authority public backing, while increasing support for groups opposed to the Oslo accords This possibility, the report said, would hamper the Palestinian Authority’s ability to negotiate with Israel and harm Israeli confidence that Arafat could secure Palestinian support for any future agreements. The Palestinian Authority said it welcomed the report. Nabil Sha’ath, the official in charge of planning affairs, said he would head a team to work with the task force on implementing the reforms. He said many of them would help the Palestinian Authority “be ready for the declaration of our independent state.”