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As Palestinians Slide into Anarchy, Calls Mount for Better Leadership

February 3, 2004
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“Yes, we are in a state of anarchy.”

That is how Zayyad Abu-Zayyad, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a former Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister, describes life today in the areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

“Certainly when a Palestinian policeman cannot walk around freely wearing his uniform, this creates a vacuum in which everyone does whatever one pleases,” he said.

The situation is becoming grave, Abu-Zayyad told JTA.

“We have people selling land that is not theirs, and our courts are unable to enforce the law. Everyone who has money can purchase as many arms as he wants and can do with them whatever he wants. There is strong collaboration between our mafia and the Israeli mafia,” he said.

“I am surprised at the level of mutual tolerance within the Palestinian society that still exists,” he added. “Other societies would have been at a much worse state.”

However, Abu-Zayyad distinguishes between a state of anarchy and the possibility that the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of disintegration.

“The P.A. is not collapsing,” he said. “Should it happen to collapse, it would certainly not be in Israel’s interest; all extremists would go on a rampage. I know that there are a number of Palestinian intellectuals who feel that the P.A. should give up and let Israel take over — I am not among them.”

A resident of the Jerusalem suburb of al-Azariyya, Abu-Zayyad is a close associate of P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Accordingly, he relieves Qurei of any responsibility for the deterioration of affairs.

“No one helps him, neither” P.A. President Yasser “Arafat, nor the Israelis nor the Americans. He still stays put, but I am not sure for how long,” Abu-Zayyad said.

Israeli and American officials reportedly consider Qurei a tremendous disappointment. Perhaps because he witnessed the fate of his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas — who tried to wrest real power from Arafat and was forced to resign within three months — Qurei has demonstrated virtually no leadership since taking office last fall, Israeli and American officials say.

There is a high probability that he soon will resign or be forced to resign, Israeli officials believe.

As a result, Ze’evi said, Arafat recently instructed uniformed P.A. police officers to return to the streets of Palestinian cities to demonstrate a political presence. However, the lack of discipline in the force is such that the suicide bomber who killed 11 civilians on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem last week was a P.A. policeman from Bethlehem.

Arafat finds himself under heavy pressure from Egypt to cope with the anarchy and create conditions that would enable a meeting between Qurei and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Qurei has kept his distance from Sharon, demanding that Israel suspend construction of its West Bank security fence as a condition for meeting.

Sharon, who believes the fence will dramatically change the strategic relations between Israel and the Palestinians in Israel’s favor, refused.

“He wants to succeed, but this is not enough,” Abu-Zayyad said of Qurei. “He has learned the lesson from Abu-Mazen,” he said, using Abbas’ nom de guerre.

Abbas “annihilated himself politically,” Abu-Zayyad said, “after having met Sharon and receiving nothing from him.”

Sharon released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, relaxed anti-terrorist restrictions in the West Bank and turned over several cities to P.A. rule in an effort to bolster Abbas’ prestige. The Bush administration, which has shunned Arafat because of his ties to terrorism, warmly embraced Abbas, inviting him to the White House and relaxing restrictions on U.S. aid to the Palestinians to show that Abbas could win gains for his people.

Palestinians say the Israeli and American gestures were not enough.

Abu-Zayyad draws a picture in which the Palestinian Authority has absolutely no power to stabilize the situation. But that’s not an accurate description, according to some Israeli experts.

“The story repeats itself every few months: Internal unrest in the Palestinian Authority reaches a heating point, Arafat makes a few moves to prove that he is in control but then lets go and allows the instability to continue,” Harari said.

According to Harari, Arafat still thrives on a situation of “divide and rule,” regardless of the consequences for his people.

However, Harari said, the one difference is the fact that now Palestinians dare to speak of “fawda,” an Arabic word that denotes a state of anarchy.

The watershed was the attempt last fall on the life of Ghassan Shaka, mayor of Nablus. Shaka’s brother, Ahmad, was shot dead in Nablus by bullets apparently aimed at Shaka, one of the most prominent figures in the Palestinian areas.

Following the murder, Shaka wrote a sharply worded letter to Arafat that was published in all Palestinian newspapers.

“The continuation of this threatening and painful situation, and the impotence of the Palestinian law authorities, will force us to take our rights into our hands,” he wrote. “My family and I expect immediate measures of sovereignty that will return the respect of law.”

Once Shaka spoke out, others followed suit. In an article in the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, former Arafat adviser Imad Shakur demanded that Arafat take immediate and dramatic steps to return law and order to the Palestinian streets.

First, Shakur wrote, all factions — most of which maintain terrorist militias — should be transformed into legitimate political parties; the militias should be dismantled and integrated into the legitimate P.A. security forces; and the Qurei government should resign and an emergency government be created.

In fact, the first two suggestions are very close to obligations the Palestinians accepted under the “road map” peace plan, but then said they could not be expected to carry out.

Recent opinion polls show public Palestinian support for Shakur’s demands. A poll conducted two months ago by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip showed that only 37 percent of Palestinian respondents had confidence in Qurei’s government.

A record high of 81 percent said P.A. institutions are riddled with corruption. Two-thirds of those people believe corruption will remain the same or even increase in the future.

Indeed, Abu-Zayyad said Monday that he, too, believed nothing much would change — unless Israel takes the initiative and renews peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

He was unimpressed by an interview Sharon gave this week to the Ha’aretz newspaper, in which he claimed to have given instructions to begin preparing for the removal of 17 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

“I think that every unilateral step will not bring about a solution, not even dismantling settlements,” Abu-Zayyad said, repeating the official Palestinian position. “I am sure that if Sharon dismantles settlements in the Gaza Strip, he will try and compensate the settlers in the West Bank — which would, in turn, further complicate the situation.”

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