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Sunday, 12 May, 2002, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Analysis: Reform of the Palestinian Authority
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mr Arafat has been told to clean up the PA's act
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By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

As the mammoth task of rebuilding a government shattered by Israel's West Bank offensive begins, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is coming under increasing pressure to put his governing house in order.

Reform is the keyword in Washington, echoing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's view that Mr Arafat is the leader of a "corrupt entity that must be reformed".

No one has promoted themselves in such a way that they could take over from Mr Arafat, and they probably don't want to

Dr Yezid Sayigh
Recent talks between Mr Sharon and the US president were said to focus on reform of the Palestinian Authority (PA) - over which Mr Arafat exerts tight control.

Mr Sharon's aides say he indicated that with a different PA - one that is more democratic and less corrupt - Israel would show more openness for concessions in the future.

But analysts say this sudden preoccupation by Washington and Israel with accountability and transparency within the PA is opportunistic.

Mr Sharon, they say, is unlikely to ever offer the Palestinians any concessions and that by shifting the focus to reform of the PA, he is putting off indefinitely any negotiating process with the Palestinians.

"This is not really about reform, it is about getting rid of Mr Arafat without the violence," says Dr Yezid Sayigh, co-author of an independent report on the workings of the Palestinian Authority.

"The US and Israel are acknowledging that they cannot get rid of Mr Arafat by military means or by sending him into exile. It must be done from within."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Mr Sharon would love to see the back of his arch enemy
But Dr Sayigh says there is no guarantee that any change in the way the PA was run would necessarily result in diminishing Mr Arafat's role.

"No one has promoted themselves in such a way that they could take over from Mr Arafat, and they probably don't want to," he says. "They probably don't want the headache of dealing with the irreconcilable demands."

One plan being floated would reportedly see Mr Arafat reduced to a symbolic figurehead and the creation of a post of prime minister to oversee foreign, security and economic affairs.

The Palestinians will never accept such imposed reforms. They will see it as a way of milking more concessions out of them

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor Al-Quds

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al Arabi, says that what the US is trying to do is use the idea of reform to deprive Mr Arafat of his most important cards - control over finance and the security forces.

"The whole idea is to have a reformed security apparatus according to the Israeli agenda," says Mr Bari Atwan.

Need for change

CIA director George Tenet is scheduled to return to the Middle East to supervise the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces soon.

Few Palestinians doubt that the PA needs radical reform. Key demands are a constitution, an independent judiciary, democratic elections and reform of the fragmented security forces.

There will be much tugging at Arafat and Arafat will tug back

Dr Sayigh
In 1999, an independent report funded by the European Commission and Norway and co-authored by Dr Sayigh concluded that the Palestinian leadership must improve its ability to govern democratically and effectively or risk losing the support of the people.

But Dr Sayigh says he fears that because Mr Sharon has successfully shifted the focus to corruption many of the key issues will be marginalised.

Mr Bari Atwan agrees that the Palestinian people want change but says that all the talk about reform from Washington is fruitless.

"The Palestinians will never accept such imposed reforms," he says. "They will see it as a way of milking more concessions out of them."

It is not clear what Mr Arafat will do, but it is likely that faced with an Israeli Government intent on his downfall, his instinct will be to tighten his grip on power.

"What I believe will happen in the short term is that Arafat will dig his heels in," says Dr Sayigh.

"There will be much tugging at Arafat and Arafat will tug back - and then in the autumn the Americans will probably turn their attentions to Iraq."

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