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Term Limits for Arafat? : Not quite, but Palestinians have to wonder about this leader

November 11, 1994

A week ago Yasser Arafat was hissed and jostled when he appeared at a mosque in Gaza for the funeral of a Palestinian radical killed in a car bomb explosion that most Palestinians blame on Israel. The public humiliation of the PLO chairman was yet another sign of his weakened grip on the loyalties of those whose aspirations he claims to represent.

In part, the harassment of Arafat reflects the growing gulf between those Palestinians who accept the peace process with Israel and those who remain committed to a posture of no negotiations and no compromise. What is also reflected is the mounting frustration Palestinians feel over the slow pace of the talks with Israel and the absence of material improvement in their lives.

Blame for this can be distributed all around. Israel plainly has been in no rush to resolve such key issues as how Israeli troops on the West Bank are to be redeployed and the nature of the self-rule council that Palestinians are to elect.

The security concerns indicated by this go-slow approach, Israelis would say, have been validated by the attacks on Israelis carried out by Muslim extremists, attacks Arafat seems unable to control. But Israeli foot-dragging has been more than matched by Palestinian ineptitude. Arafat, as always insisting on total control and as always trusting only his cronies, has failed to deliver as the head of the Palestinian Authority, which is supposed to handle the transition to self-rule.

Arafat's administrative failures, along with persistent doubts by donors that the notoriously corrupt PLO can be trusted, are largely responsible for holding up the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged foreign help. As a consequence, what had earlier been seen as an urgent need to begin lifting living standards to build support for the peace process has been left largely unmet. And so anger and despair have increased, and Hamas and other radical Muslim groups have won greater sympathy.

Arafat and Israel are now concerned enough that they have agreed to speed up their talks on key issues and move ahead with Israel's transfer to Palestinians of authority over education, taxation, welfare and tourism. At the same time Israel will ease the restrictions on permits for Gazans who seek work in Israel. These are obviously useful steps. But profound challenges remain. Not the least of them is Arafat's own apparently incurable administrative incompetence and his jealous refusal to share power. There's no shortage of Palestinian technical and administrative talent and commercial acumen. But with Arafat in charge, these clearly are not being adequately used. Palestinians crave change. The place to start may be at the top.

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