- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

TEL AVIV Palestinian lawmakers plan to demand that Yasser Arafat change his strategy toward Israel and deal with corruption in his government at the legislature's first meeting in months beginning today, lawmakers and analysts said yesterday.
The 87-member body will meet in Ramallah with a dozen of its members barred by Israel from traveling to the session from Gaza for security reasons.
The debate is expected to amplify criticism of Mr. Arafat's policies voiced in the past week by several key figures in the Palestinian leadership, including the interior minister and a former Cabinet member.
The unprecedented public criticism of the Palestinian government is the latest twist in a 2-year-old debate over the tactics of the intifada, though it has become more vociferous since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered troops back into West Bank cities.
"Many people are going to ask the question, 'Where are we going?' We have to know where the tunnel is taking us," said Ali Jarbawi, professor of political science at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.
"The outside pressure is part of it. We know that Israel is pressuring us and they want us to surrender. But the point is, how should we respond? Do we have a plan? Do we have a vision? Do we have a policy? These are the concerns of the people and many of the legislators that I know."
Last week, Nabil Amr, a legislator and a former minister in the Palestinian government, published a newspaper article criticizing Mr. Arafat for not accepting the peace plan pushed by the United States and Israel two years ago at Camp David.
Mr. Amr, who resigned in May saying the entire Cabinet should be replaced, called on the Palestinian leader to completely overhaul his administration.
At the same time, Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, in an interview in a Palestinian government-run newspaper, reiterated a call for militants to halt all attacks on Israel.
The Associated Press reported last night that Mr. Arafat will call today for an end to suicide bombing attacks and affirm the Palestinian commitment to peace with Israel, based on a draft of Mr. Arafat's address to the parliament obtained by the wire service.
"The Palestinian people are standing against all types of terrorism, whether it is state terror or individual terror," according to Mr. Arafat's draft text.
But violence continued last night as Palestinian security officials said two people were killed by Israeli tank fire in a confrontation along the main road in the Gaza Strip.
The public sniping at Mr. Arafat reflects a debate among Palestinians that was catalyzed by Israel's decision to reoccupy Palestinian cities in response to a wave of terrorist attacks, some say.
"People have had different points of view of the Palestinian struggle from the very beginning," said Ziyad Abu Amr, a Palestinian legislator from Gaza.
"After the reoccupation of the West Bank, people were awakened by some kind of surprise, and said, 'How did we end up here?'"
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initially opposed the idea of convening the Palestinian lawmaking body but relented last week when advisers convinced him that members are planning to criticize Mr. Arafat, Israel's Ha'aretz daily said last week.
Even so, Israel yesterday denied clearance for 12 Palestinian legislators from Gaza to attend the meeting in Ramallah. Criticizing Israel for attempting to undermine the council's session, Mr. Abu Amr said he and other Palestinian lawmakers will stay home from the meeting in protest.
The first order of business when the legislature reconvenes will be a vote of confidence in Mr. Arafat's Cabinet, which includes five members appointed in recent months.
But Mr. Arafat will face demands for the resignation of all the veteran government ministers and for reforms that will give the legislature more power to check decisions of the government.
The Palestinian reformers said elections are needed to give the government a new public mandate before it restarts negotiations with Israel.


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