- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The Bush administration has begun looking beyond Yasser Arafat for the rise of a new generation of Palestinian leaders who are willing to build a state with a viable economy, disciplined police force and regular elections a nation capable of living side by side with Israel.
"It's not for the president to choose the Palestinian leadership who can get [reforms] done," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. "But the president is interested in seeing that there are Palestinian leaders, whoever they are, who will choose to get it done."
Senior U.S. officials say that Mr. Arafat an icon of the 35-year struggle by Palestinians for their own state is in some sense irreplaceable so long as he is alive. No U.S. official will publicly demand his ouster or exile.
But the Bush administration seems to be coming around to the Israeli view expressed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his truncated visit to Washington this week that Mr. Arafat is incapable of delivering either peace to Israel or an accountable leadership to his people.
Despite reports of younger Palestinian officials urging Mr. Arafat to focus on reforms within his administration, few expect any internal challenge to his authority.
"The administration has turned the discussion away from Arafat and focused on the need for reforms," said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East scholar at the University of Maryland.
For any Palestinian to compete with Mr. Arafat would be "the kiss of death," he said.
Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell are trying to sell their shift in focus to moderate Arab countries as well as the European Union.
Apart from discrediting Mr. Arafat, their policy includes two major thrusts: a need to reform the corrupt Palestinian Authority and to find new Palestinian leaders.
Mr. Bush first made his case after a meeting with Mr. Sharon at the White House on Tuesday.
"One of the things that we did talk about was how to put institutions in place so that a potential Palestinian state can be a peaceful neighbor with Israel," the president said.
Mr. Bush elaborated by saying they spoke of "reforms, such as making sure there's a single command security force that can be held accountable for arresting terrorists; reforms such as having an economic system that would help promote rule of law and defeat corruption; reform so that if there is ever a rebuilding campaign, which we have expressed an interest in doing, and the Europeans have, that the money is actually spent on the projects that we intend them to be spent on."
He added: "My heart breaks for the Palestinian moms and dads who wonder whether or not their children are going to be able to get a good education and whether or not there's going to be a job available for their children."
The Egyptian ambassador to Washington, Nabil Fahmy, said Wednesday during a forum of five Arab envoys at The Washington Times that the United States should not try to replace Mr. Arafat and that the Arabs must deal with Mr. Sharon.
"It's a waste of time for either side to try to change the leadership of the other side," Mr. Fahmy said, noting that Mr. Arafat was chosen by the Palestinians as their leader.
Moderate Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have long funded and backed Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian cause, which is popular throughout the Arab world.
But Arab leaders also see Mr. Arafat as a nagging cousin, dragging them back into conflicts with Israel and the United States they had thought were behind them.
Israelis also have called for the emergence of new Palestinian leaders.
"If you were the head of the Palestinian Authority, there would be peace. I trust you, not Arafat," said Minister of Justice Meir Sheetrit during an appearance with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on ABC's "Nightline."
But Mr. Bush yesterday denied a report in the Israeli press that he had told Mr. Sharon that he would not object to moving Mr. Arafat out of a position of power.
"No, it's not an accurate reflection of what went on in the Oval Office, as the secretary of state has made clear, who was in the meeting as well," he said.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that he was pleased that Mr. Arafat had spoken out, in Arabic, against terrorism after Tuesday's suicide bombing near Tel Aviv that killed 15 Israelis and injured 60.
"That's good. That's a positive development. Now it's up to Chairman Arafat to perform, to keep [suspected terrorists] in jail, arrest them and keep them in jail. In order for there to be peace, there must be we must rout out terror."


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