- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus Radical Palestinian groups, fearful that Israel will succeed in its effort to undermine Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat, have begun clandestine efforts to establish an alternative organization to replace him.
Reports on the groups' efforts have appeared in the Saudi press and have been confirmed by Arab and European diplomats. An Arab source said the effort is still in the stage of "secret and serious consultation."
Extremist Palestinian groups expected to participate in the attempt to depose Mr. Arafat are said to include Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hamas and PFLP-General Command.
The new organization would include members of Mr. Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement, according to the Saudi daily Al-Watan, which has reported on the scheme.
The newspaper said the organizers are motivated by concern that the Palestinian Authority (PA) "is gradually collapsing" under Israeli pressure, and that the Jewish state may succeed in replacing it with "a Palestinian leadership subservient to it."
Israel has used tanks and troops to keep Mr. Arafat confined to his office complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah since December. They pulled back only recently to allow him to leave his office.
Authorities in Tel Aviv have said their purpose, at least in part, is to undermine Mr. Arafat and his organization in the hope that he will be replaced by someone more centrist.
"The possibility of the complete collapse of the PA is high on the agenda of the Israeli officials," said Al-Watan. "Therefore, preparations must be made from now on for the next phase."
Some diplomats believe the effort to create a new Palestinian body might disrupt an Arab League summit scheduled for Beirut at the end of this month.
Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the 22-nation Arab League, has traveled to Syria, Libya and Saudi Arabia, apparently trying to muster a common strategy for a peace plan in the Middle East built around a proposal floated by Saudi Arabia.
Introduced last month by Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, the proposal suggested that Israel withdraw "from all occupied territories" in exchange for Arab recognition of the Jewish state and establishment of "normal" relations.
The plan had been criticized by Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and Syrian President Bashar Assad, but both, after considerable pressure, withdrew their opposition.
Still, Arab diplomatic sources say the Saudi plan, based on the old and oft-pitched formula of "land for peace," has little chance of succeeding. One of the unanswered questions is the future of an estimated 7 million Palestinians scattered throughout the Arab world.
The prevailing Arab view was summarized by Dubai's Al-Bayan newspaper, which wrote:
"If the Arab side wants to be approached with the highest degree of seriousness, it will have to be prepared to extend meaningful backing to the armed Palestinian resistance, and to state that position publicly.
"In any event, the fire of the resistance needs to remain raging and unrelenting as the negotiating process goes on."


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