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Saudis continue volley of criticism leveled at Arafat in the Arab world

LONDON, Aug. 15 (JTA) — As Israel and the Palestinians appear to be removing obstacles that have hindered their march to peace, moves to discredit Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat are intensifying in the Arab world. Publicly snubbed by Kuwait and verbally abused by Syria in recent weeks, Arafat was the subject of a ferocious attack Sunday in the leading Saudi-owned newsweekly al-Majalla, published in London. Middle East analysts believe that attempts are being orchestrated to undermine Arafat at home and abroad in order to stymie the Palestinian track and convince Israel to focus first on the Syria/Lebanon dimension of the negotiations. In al-Majalla, which is regarded as the Saudis’ flagship weekly, editor Abdelaziz Khamis denounced Arafat for selling out his people’s rights to Israel and for subjecting them to undemocratic repressive rule. Significantly, Khamis also revisited Arafat’s “political schizophrenia” in adopting a pro-Iraqi stance in the immediate aftermath of the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, indicating that he has also not been forgiven by Saudi Arabia, the richest of the oil-rich Gulf states. Khamis said that while the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas was once hounded by Israel, it now finds itself under “vicious assault” by the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders are “enamored with monopolizing power and convinced that they, and they alone, are always right.” The Palestinian Authority has brought with it a style of political behavior it grew accustomed to in exile, he wrote. “Instead of fulfilling the Palestinian dream of upholding pluralism and strengthening options for political participation, its repression has become a match for the regimes it emulates and copies,” Khamis wrote. “Because it felt that Hamas and other Palestinian Islamic movements were a popular threat to it, it embarked on a path of destroying them morally and militarily.” On Arafat’s handling of the peace process, Khamis wrote, “I don’t know what Arafat has left, after having conceded everything to Israel, especially after he agreed to delay implementation of the unfulfilled provisions of the Wye River agreement. “In my opinion,” he continued, “all he can do now is acknowledge what Hamas has been saying about him — that he is building a protectorate and not a state, that he is establishing nothing but a ‘South Palestine Army’ to emulate the South Lebanese Army, whose objective is to protect Israel and repress his compatriots.” Khamis said it was widely believed that the Palestinian Authority, under Arafat’s leadership, would set an example to the Arabs of how to establish a just and civilized government. “He has the means at his disposal and the Palestinian people boast that they have the highest proportion of educated and cultured people in the Arab world,” Khamis wrote. “But it appears that those who control the Palestinian Authority are merely soldiers who have been saturated with the spirit of repression and are capable of offering only what they have been accustomed to: the stifling of freedoms, closed-minded thinking, and intolerance of differing views.” Arafat was previously humiliated at the funeral of Morocco’s late King Hassan on July 25 when television cameras caught the Kuwaiti crown prince refusing his outstretched hand while accepting that of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Earlier this month, Arafat was the subject of a bitter outburst by Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas, who described the Palestinian Authority chairman as the “son of 60,000 whores.”