- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Yasser Arafat has shuffled his subordinates but left Israelis and Arabs alike unsure whether he will initiate real reform since President Bush's call last month for his ouster.

"Arafat is manipulating everyone, removing some supposed to be opponents, putting new people in new positions, confusing everyone and giving the illusion there is reform," said Israeli adviser Ra'anan Gissin yesterday.

Until some Palestinian leader shows he will act to stop the suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, Israel will keep up its pressure such as the military occupation and curfew in most West Bank cities, he said.

Talks yesterday between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and newly appointed Palestinian Interior Minister Gen. Abdel Razaq Yahiya the first high-level Israeli-Palestinian talks in three months were not negotiations but only a move to ease humanitarian conditions, said Mr. Gissin, a foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"It's too early to say the Bush speech [June 24] had any effect," said Mr. Gissin in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

"But his speech has become a blueprint for a Bush doctrine for the Middle East. The Palestinian leaders now understand Bush is dead serious. It's probably part of a larger plan the Bush administration has for the Middle East."

A flurry of recent challenges to the authority of Mr. Arafat by little-known Palestinian figures has made no appreciable dent in support for "the old man" in the West Bank and Gaza, said Edward Abington, a former U.S. consul in East Jerusalem and now a consultant to the Palestinian Authority.

The trauma of Israeli military occupation and curfews throughout the West Bank is creating tremendous pressure for a change, but attacks on Mr. Arafat by Mr. Bush have actually enhanced his popularity, he said.

"The impact of the Bush speech was essentially negative," said Mr. Abington, who recently returned from the West Bank. "The feeling is it's up to the Palestinians to choose their leader and not for the United states to tell them who their leaders should be."

None of the most likely candidates for the Palestinian leadership has openly challenged Mr. Arafat or backed a call by some Palestinian academics for Mr. Arafat to retain symbolic power as head of state while an elected prime minister runs the government.

Nevertheless, a senior Israeli military source said Mr. Arafat is so weakened by the Israeli occupation, the Bush condemnation and the overall despair of the Palestinians that he is unlikely to remain in power even without additional U.S. or Israeli pressure to oust him.

"With the chairman's power dropping so precipitously, pushed by so many forces, it wouldn't be right for us to expel him ourselves. It would be viewed as a distortion of the American line," the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz quoted one military source as saying.

Even Mr. Gissin no friend of Mr. Arafat said it was unwise for any Israeli or American official to discuss possible successors to Mr. Arafat as it could ruin their chances of election.

West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub, 47, was fired last week by Mr. Arafat in a move that was indirectly a slap at the Americans and Israelis, who had fairly cooperative relations with Mr. Rajoub.

After a brief protest by some of the 4,000 police under his command, Mr. Rajoub accepted Mr. Arafat's decision.


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