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Europe Should Press Arafat

August 09, 2004

Israel's decision to let Palestinian police again carry pistols in the West Bank is a small positive step -- a rare occurrence. Nearly four years of renewed Palestinian battles against Israel in the intifada have put Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority ever further away from its proclaimed goal of an independent Palestinian state. Self-government and eventual creation of a Palestinian state are unthinkable until violence and corruption, particularly in Gaza, are quelled.

Israel's announcement of greater power for the Palestinian police last week and its opening Friday of the long-shut border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt should bolster Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Korei. Israel would also benefit from letting Korei be seen as a Palestinian it can deal with, in contrast to Arafat. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government refuses to meet with Arafat, as does the United States.

Korei is a longtime Arafat aide, viewed as a possible successor to the Palestinian leader, if Arafat ever puts the needs of his people ahead of his own power. Another potential leader is Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security chief who is now Arafat's biggest rival for power in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan is demanding reform in the Palestinian Authority, something just about everyone outside Arafat's camp agrees is necessary. Step one would be breaking Arafat's control over the Palestinian security forces.

Arafat's naming of a cousin as security chief in the Gaza Strip last month sparked violent protests against cronyism and corruption. It also prompted Korei to submit his resignation. He changed his mind after Arafat backed down on the cousin's appointment.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell unfortunately skipped Israel on his trip through the Middle East at the end of July, although the White House's main emissary on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams, visited last week and met with Israeli officials and Korei.

Top-level U.S. officials are preoccupied with the presidential campaign and the insurgency in Iraq. European Union nations that are supposed to be Washington's partners in the peace process, and that do deal with Arafat, should intensify their own reform pressures on the 75-year-old revolutionary. Pressure from the U.S. and its allies forced Arafat to institute the post of prime minister last year and name a finance minister, Salam Fayyad, who seems serious about attacking pervasive corruption in Arafat's government. He's made enough progress that Israel last week turned over frozen Palestinian tax revenues on the condition that Fayyad control their disbursal. In the absence of U.S. attention, it's up to Europe to help keep such reforms moving forward.

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