Arafat bids to purge security chiefs

05 July 2002

The beleaguered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seeking to shake up his security services, in response to the US administration's calls for root-and-branch reforms to the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, analysts say Arafat's moves are unlikely to impress Washington, which is holding fast to its demand for Arafat himself to step down.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said on 4 July that details on the planned reforms to the security services would be announced within days. He described as 'rumours' reports that a decision had been taken to dismiss the powerful West Bank security commander Jibril Rajoub and Gaza chief of police Ghazi Jabali.

Rajoub himself, who has built up a good relationship with the CIA, emphasised on 3 July that he is staying put. Analysts say the leaking of the reports about Rajoub being dismissed may have been an exercise in testing the waters. The reports said Rajoub was to be appointed as governor of Jenin and the current governor of the northern West Bank town, Zuhair al-Manashreh, would be given Rajoub's post of head of preventive security. The reaction of Rajoub and his supporters to the news suggests that Arafat may be obliged to backtrack. As regards the Gaza post, it was reported on 4 July that Jabali was stepping down to stand against Arafat in the elections planned for January 2003.

The former head of preventive security in Gaza, Mohamed Dahlan, has been presented as potential new leader of the PA. Dahlan says he stepped down from this post over the issue of institutional reform, but he has insisted that he has no intention of standing against Arafat in the present circumstances.

The London daily The Guardian on 2 July published an article by Dahlan outlining his reasons. '[US President] Bush is now effectively demanding a coup d'etat against Arafat,' Dahlan wrote. 'And as long as the Israelis are against Arafat, I'm with him - whatever reservations I have about some of the decisions that have been made. While the chairman is under siege, it would be wrong to criticise him - that would only serve Israel and America.'

Dahlan, who was part of the Palestinian delegation at the Camp David talks in mid 2000, said that the Palestinians had at that time not been offered a specific peace accord. However, at the subsequent talks in Taba there was a workable outline package, but this was blocked by then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak because of the imminent elections. Dahlan also strongly denied Israeli allegations that the intifada that started at the end of September 2000 was in any way planned. He said the Israeli army made the uprising inevitable when it shot dead 19 unarmed Palestinian protestors on the first two days after Ariel Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. He said that since that moment, Israel has focused its attacks on the PA security institutions, rendering it impossible for them to stop suicide bombings in Israel.

Dahlan said he acknowledged the need for reforms in the PA, 'not to please the Americans - who want to do away with the PA and Arafat - but from the point of view of Palestinian interests.I was pressing for these reforms long before the US and Israel started to seize on them as an excuse not to make peace.'

Despite his public refusal to challenge Arafat, Dahlan is expected to play a key role in the restructuring of the PA and has kept in close contact with Egyptian officials working on proposals for Palestinian political reforms.

The discussions about changes in the PA have taken place as Israeli forces have maintained their presence in several West Bank towns.

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