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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Analysis: Arafat moves and manoeuvres
Yasser Arafat
Arafat has wrongly been written off in the past
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Paul Reynolds
By Paul Reynolds
BBC Middle East analyst

Yasser Arafat has announced that he will reform the Palestinian Authority. He has taken responsibility for "mistakes" and he promises change.

This was a classic move by the Palestinian leader, who is often accused of being better at manoeuvring than administration.

The speech will make it easier for the Americans to deal with him. He is in part answering George W Bush's call for him to show "leadership." But Washington will look for results as well

He has responded to his Palestinian critics and to demands from the United States and Israel for reform by promising change, but he has laid down no timetable.

As he has done so often before, he has come out of a corner determined to re-establish his position. He cannot be written off.

Switching allegiance

He did it in 1982 when the Israeli army - led by the then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon - cornered him in Beirut. He managed to get away and lived to fight another day.

He did it again after the Gulf War in 1991, in which he took sides with Saddam Hussein. He was declared a spent force by many. Not so. In rapid time, he changed sides again and was back in play.

Note the same pattern - make a concession and return to the fray.

Hamas members at a funeral
It is not clear whether Arafat can control Hamas

Whether his reforms satisfy his own people largely depends on how or whether they are carried out. And there is always the danger that he will be outflanked by the extremists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

If he does not control the suicide bombers, as he says he will, then the wrath of Israel will be turned on the Palestinian people again.

And he has to recover some of the ground he lost among his people, many of whom think that he made too many concessions to Israel to end his own siege and that at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

They do not want him to become the Palestinian Petain - the French general who made peace with Hitler and set up a puppet state in the French town of Vichy.


It is a typical juggling game by Mr Arafat.

The speech will make it easier for the Americans to deal with him. He is in part answering George W Bush's call for him to show "leadership." But Washington will look for results as well.

Saddam Hussein
In the Gulf War Arafat sided with Iraq

As for the Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can go on refusing to deal with Yasser Arafat for as long as they choose, using the arguments that reforms are not enough and that Mr Arafat's departure should be one of those reforms.

If the changes are real, though, Mr Arafat's position will be strengthened and the Israelis will not have succeeded in marginalising him.

They would not find it so easy to prevent him from going to any Middle East conference - not that such a conference has much hope of achieving anything significant at the moment.

See also:

10 May 02 | Middle East
Rebuilding the Palestinian Authority
14 May 02 | Middle East
Sharon demands Palestinian reforms
15 May 01 | Middle East
Flashback: Palestine's catastrophe
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