- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Palestinian leaders said yesterday that President Bush's tough demands for the ouster of Yasser Arafat will only strengthen the aging guerrilla chief's hand and push people to support him if he runs for re-election.
"The Bush speech may prolong Arafat's term in power this will strengthen his current position," Ziad Abu Amr, chairman of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said at a Washington seminar yesterday.
The leaders also said new threats by Mr. Bush yesterday to withhold aid if Mr. Arafat clings to power, and to use U.S. military force against terrorism inside the Palestinian territories, were rash and dangerous.
"Delaying aid from the international community would also delay the reforms that we already have started within most of our organizations and sectors, in particular in education and the health system," said West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub.
Palestinian minister Nabil Shaath said yesterday he understood Mr. Arafat "will run for election again" as president of the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo denied that. Mr. Arafat had set legislative and presidential elections for January.
Israeli forces yesterday kept 700,000 Palestinians under curfew while they tightened their grip on eight cities.
Israeli forces shot and killed an 8-year-old boy in Jenin, Palestinian doctors said.
In Hebron, Israelis continued to pound Mr. Arafat's headquarters after 150 Palestinians, including 20 top fugitives, surrendered. Others remained inside.
Speaking at a conference on Palestinian reforms sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, several Palestinian academics said Mr. Bush's proposals to oust leaders such as Mr. Arafat over links to terrorism were unwelcome.
"The general public is almost all against it it does not give a road map," said Hassan Ali Libdeh, president of the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, a private group in Al Bireh.
"Without immediate [confidence-building measures such as Israeli withdrawals], elections will only produce more radicals. Who is going to be able to campaign against suicide bombings [while Israel occupies Palestinian towns]?" he asked.
Mr. Abu Amr criticized the Bush administration for failing to stand up to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But he reserved his strongest condemnation for Mr. Arafat's government, accusing its senior officials and many overlapping security forces of flagrant corruption and abuse of power.
"There is a fight and competition for privileges and extortion they collect taxes, they are putting their hands on public property," he said. "They do not fight to maintain law and order or public security."
Mr. Abu Amr called for ending corruption and replacing the old guard of revolutionaries with younger, more trained people able to run a modern economy.
The Palestinian National Council had asked Mr. Arafat to reform his administration but to no avail, said the legislator.
The Palestinian legislative leader said it remained uncertain who might replace Mr. Arafat if he decided not to run or would be prevented from running because of his age or other causes.
"Many would be hesitant to run until there will be some clear election [system]," he said.
Mr. Abu Amr dismissed calls by the Bush administration to outlaw Hamas.
"No government will outlaw Hamas," he said. "It's not a radical movement it's a modern, political movement" with wide support.

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