As Security in Gaza Disintegrates, Arafat Faces Dissent from Within

After years of conflict with Israel, Yasser Arafat now faces what is perhaps an even tougher challenge to his political survival: a Palestinian people increasingly — and, in some cases, violently — unhappy with his handling of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat declared a state of emergency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday after a weekend of standoffs with armed Palestinian anti-corruption vigilantes, abductions of foreigners and a shake-up of his security services.

Complaining of an unprecedented state of chaos, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei resigned.

Arafat rejected Qurei’s resignation. But by following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who quit last summer after complaining of Arafat’s interference in his peacemaking efforts, Qurei brought scrutiny ever closer to the Palestinian leader and his years of unchallenged rule.

There was quiet satisfaction in Jerusalem, which has long lobb! ied to persuade the world that Arafat, rather than Israel, was the Palestinians’ worst enemy.

“What is happening in the Palestinian Authority proves that all the contrived efforts to show there is someone to talk to on the Palestinian side are motivated by personal interests and are unrealistic,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet on Sunday.

The disintegration of security comes as Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza next year.

For the second day in a row, Palestinians on Sunday rallied in the streets against Arafat’s appointment of his cousin, Mousa Arafat, to head Palestinian security forces in Gaza. The move is being widely seen as an example of cronyism.

In Khan Yunis in Gaza, scores of gunmen from Fatah, a Palestinian faction dominated by Arafat supporters, torched the local offices of the P.A.’s military intelligence force.

On Saturday night, the Al-Aksa Brigade, a Fatah wing that has been active in terrorism against Israel, attacked a P! alestinian post in the Gaza Strip as controversy over Yasser Arafat’s security moves intensified.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority joined in the protests.

Sufyan Abu Zaida, a Palestinian deputy Cabinet minister, said Mousa Arafat is considered one of the most corrupt officials in the P.A., and the commander of the Palestinian naval forces submitted his resignation Sunday in protest.

Palestinians will not accept the nomination, and unrest in Gaza will grow, Abu Zaida told Israel Army Radio.

“This is infuriating,” Abu Zaida said. “This shows disregard for people and their opinions.”

The uproar over Mousa Arafat came after the police chief in Gaza, Ghazi Al-Jabali, was kidnapped last Friday by a previously unknown group, the Jenin Martyrs Brigades.

The captors demanded Jabali be fired for embezzling millions of dollars — a demand Arafat obliged after four French aid workers and another Palestinian security officer were also briefly kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza.

“With all due respect to President Arafat, the Pales! tinian Authority is not some private fiefdom,” a masked Jenin Martyrs Brigades spokesman told reporters whom, minutes earlier, his comrades had kept away from their hideout by firing in the air. “Where is the reform? Where is the democracy?”

Palestinian pundits were quick to point the finger of blame at Israel, saying its counter-terrorist sweeps of the West Bank and Gaza had robbed Arafat of real power.

But there was also new criticism at home of the Palestinian leader’s failure to consolidate a dozen disparate security services — many of them with personnel who moonlight as terrorists.

Several media reports suggested that Mohammed Dahlan, a Fatah strongman favored by Jerusalem but sidelined by Arafat, had fomented the mutiny in a bid to gather strength ahead of Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

“Our wagon is overloaded with complicities,” complained Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat in an interview with Israel Army Radio.

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