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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Analysis: Arafat on the edge
Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
Arab support may not be enough for Yasser Arafat
By Gerald Butt

Yasser Arafat finds himself caught between a rock and at least three very hard places.

As the violence between Palestinians and Israelis continues, he finds his room for manoeuvre shrinking.

There is a growing sense that matters are increasingly beyond the Palestinian leader's control

The decision by the right-wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon to make his controversial visit to the sacred Islamic Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), situated on the Jewish Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, may not have displeased the Palestinian leader.

Mr Sharon's action had the effect of uniting all factions of the Palestinians (including opponents of the peace process and Arafat's critics) against a common enemy.

It also deflected attention away from the stalemate in the talks with the Israeli government.

Mr Arafat will also have welcomed the expressions of support he received from Arab leaders across the region - from pro-Western monarchs as much as from the heads of state of Libya and Iraq.

Not tough enough

But this flurry of developments left Mr Arafat facing a question: What to do next?

His clear hope was that the violence would both encourage the United States to get involved more actively than before in seeking a solution and force the hand of the Israelis to make concessions on a range of issues - but with the future of Jerusalem at the top of the list.

For this tactic to work, though, Mr Arafat had to show that he was in control, that he had the power to check the violence at will.

But as time goes on there is a growing sense that matters are increasingly beyond the Palestinian leader's control - on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as on the diplomatic stage.

A growing number of Palestinians believe that Mr Arafat should have been tougher and had made fewer compromises in the secret negotiations with Israel that set the basis for the peace process.

Then they would not have found themselves as they are today - angered and frustrated at the failure of that process to furnish the promised economic and social benefits, and at the continued Israeli military presence on Palestinian land.

Only leader

In other words at least some of the anger being unleashed on the streets is directed at the past failures of the Palestinian leadership itself.

The militant Islamic group Hamas is likely to capitalise further on the mood of dissatisfaction, but one should not expect a Hamas takeover of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

For better or worse, Mr Arafat is the only leader the Palestinians have.

He has made sure of that over the years.

But as he returns to the negotiating table there is little to smile about.

He is aware of the mood back home, aware that the United States and Israel are pressuring him to sign compromise deals over Jerusalem and other issues, and aware that the Arab and Islamic world has tied his hands as far as making concessions are concerned.

Even for an Arab leader familiar with tight corners, this one is tighter than most.

Gerald Butt, a former BBC Middle East Correspondent, is Senior Editor, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES)

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