- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

DOHA, Qatar — Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, in a campaign supported by his newspapers and some ministers, publicly rebuffed his prime minister just hours after the three-way summit in Jordan with President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who represented the Palestinians while Mr. Arafat remained sidelined in the West Bank city of Ramallah, declared Wednesday’s summit a success.

But Mr. Arafat indirectly accused him of failing to defend Palestinian interests.

“Unfortunately, the Israelis did not give anything tangible. What does it mean to move a trailer here or there?” Mr. Arafat said, in a reference to Mr. Sharon’s promise to dismantle Israeli outposts in the Palestinian-held territories.

For his part, Mr. Abbas called on Palestinian militants to end the armed struggle for an independent state.

Mr. Arafat’s remarks underscored a campaign by him and several of his ministers, legal advisers and the Palestinian media to portray Mr. Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen, as an ineffectual puppet.

“Arafat still has tremendous power,” said Hanan Ashrawi, an influential former minister in the Palestinian Cabinet.

Labor Minister Daood Khattab, who is also a journalist, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Mr. Abbas was not popular, in contrast to Mr. Arafat.

He said a recent survey showed Mr. Arafat having 35 percent support of the public, with Mr. Abbas enjoying just 3 percent.

Legal advisers to the Palestine Liberation Organization said during international radio interviews that Mr. Abbas has no authority to make any changes in Palestinian positions while negotiating with the Israelis.

They say the PLO, founded in the 1960s as an umbrella political-military front, controls policy, with Mr. Arafat as its chairman. That effectively gives Mr. Arafat a veto over any agreement Mr. Abbas negotiates.

In other signs of his continued influence, Mr. Arafat this week delayed a pre-summit meeting between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas and publicly greeted a released Palestinian prisoner at his Ramallah headquarters.

Mr. Arafat was described yesterday as enraged that his deputy, Mr. Abbas, was in the limelight at the summit with Mr. Bush and Mr. Sharon, according to several Palestinian officials.

Mr. Arafat also was upset that Mr. Abbas made no mention of the yearlong siege under which Mr. Arafat has been confined by Israel to the West Bank.

Israel and the United States say Mr. Arafat is too tainted by his failure to curb suicide bombings and attacks on Israelis to negotiate. Israel also says that if Mr. Arafat leaves the West Bank, he will not be allowed to return.

In a clear sign that Mr. Arafat remains at the helm, the officially controlled Palestinian newspapers have been running a series of photographs of Mr. Arafat, prominently displayed, while Mr. Abbas is usually shown as a smaller figure and meeting others.

Even after the summit in Aqaba, Jordan, the official Palestinian Authority daily Al Hayat displayed a close-up of Mr. Arafat with a much smaller picture of Mr. Abbas and several other people lower on the front page.

It also ran a story that said Mr. Arafat called the Palestinian delegation and issued instructions.

“Abu Mazen: Arafat is the legitimate chosen leader,” read a May 21 headline.

Yesterday, the same paper quoted Mr. Abbas as saying that he coordinates steps with Mr. Arafat, whom he calls “the symbol and the chosen president.”

All of this has annoyed U.S. officials, who have privately asked whether their insistence on not dealing with Mr. Arafat has simply been circumvented.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was in Doha with the president and feted by U.S. troops, declined to respond to questions on the Arafat-Abbas dynamic.

Israeli monitoring groups also have noted that since June 1, the front page of the Palestinian Authority newspaper has had 17 pictures of Mr. Arafat, including one of him kissing a little girl. There have been six pictures of Mr. Abbas.

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