- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Palestinian civil war

A Palestinian civil war is unavoidable without a “drastic” change in the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, according to an Arab-American leader who recently visited the region.

Dr. Ziad J. Asali, president of the Washington-based American Task Force on Palestine, blamed Yasser Arafat for failing the Palestinians and for leading a regime increasingly seen as corrupt and out of touch with a younger generation. The Jerusalem-born retired physician also denounced Israel for an “oppressive occupation” and “brutal” treatment of the Palestinian people.

“A Palestinian civil war — or more accurately wars — is a matter of time if a drastic change in direction and leadership will not take place in the near future,” Dr. Asali told guests this week at a briefing on his trip to Palestinian areas in July.

Mr. Arafat, the unchallenged Palestinian leader for generations, is struggling to hold on to power in the face of protests in the Gaza Strip last month that threatened his power and exposed a deep division in the Palestinian movement, Dr. Asali said. Armed groups have turned on Mr. Arafat’s security forces, and “village warlords” now control some towns, he said.

“The political house of Palestine is not merely divided. It is fragmented and needs to be built anew,” he said.

In the past, Mr. Arafat bridged the differences among various Palestinian factions with his stated goal of destroying Israel. However, he has been facing public criticism for a string of perceived failures that include his rejection of a peace plan proposed by President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, Dr. Asali said.

“The single most striking change in the last several weeks has been the outspoken criticism of Arafat by name by members of the political establishment in public,” he said. “It is possible now to defy the leader in public.”

Mr. Arafat has declined from a “legendary leader” to one “forced under pressure to resort to intimidation, and perhaps more, to hold on to his fast-ebbing power,” Dr. Asali said.

Dr. Asali warned his audience of trouble after the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

“It is unfortunate but true that there are no Palestinian plans for this withdrawal, as I was told unequivocally by one of the most, if not the most credible Palestinian official,” he said without identifying his contact.

“A significant segment of the population and leadership in Gaza see a light at the end of the tunnel, and some of them see no constructive role for Arafat in it,” Dr. Asali said. “They see Arafat negotiating for his own personal freedom and legacy rather than their liberation from occupation and a chance to build a new order.”

He added, “There is something sad about a 75-year-old man refusing to relinquish power.”

Dr. Asali said he was impressed by a new generation of reformers, whom he called “young Turks,” and urged the United States to encourage them.

“This group is ready to play its part and to prepare to take over responsibility,” he said. “The United States needs to know these young leaders, and they need to know the United States.”

Embassy closed

The U.S. Embassy in India will close several departments used by non-Americans today for “security concerns.”

“The embassy will make every effort to continue to [R]provide emergency services to American citizens during [R]this temporary closure,” [R]according to an announcement on the Web site (https://newdelhi.usembassy.gov.)

The embassy did not specify the reason for closing the consular section, the immigration office and the library of the American Center, which is located in another part of New Delhi.

The consulate offices in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta will remain open.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@[R]washingtontimes.com.

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