One for the road map
February 19, 2003
For the past 29 months, reports of killings in Israel and the occupied
territories have become a numbing litany--three dead over here, seven
dead over there--without any perceptible progress toward a settlement.
As of Sunday, the fighting had killed 2,109 Palestinians and 727 Israelis,
and inflicted savage economic blows to both groups.
The big election victory last month by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon signaled
that Israelis hold little hope for a negotiated end to Palestinian violence.
Most of the world is preoccupied now not with the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, but with a possible war against Iraq.
Yet on Friday, Yasser Arafat announced he will appoint a prime minister
to head the Palestinian government. That has been one of the key points
in the "road map" toward negotiation pushed by the so-called international
Quartet, composed of the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and
the U.S. Indeed, Israel and the Bush administration refuse to negotiate
The announcement coincides with talks in London this week between Israelis
and Palestinians about reforming the Palestinian Authority--and the latter's
request for $1.5 billion in international aid for the next 12 months.
Arafat's announcement was universally cheered by all sides as a possible
breakthrough in negotiating an end to the fighting. The corruption in
Arafat's government almost caught up to him last year when a no-confidence
vote almost made it through the Palestine legislature. Arafat promptly
promised elections and the appointment of a reform-minded Cabinet but,
typically, didn't deliver on either point.
Indeed, "mendacity" could be Arafat's middle name. That is why the latest
cheers were quickly followed by questions whether he would in fact appoint
a prime minister, about the nominee's real authority and job description,
and his--no women need apply--ability to begin cleaning up the Palestinian
With negotiations starting in London, and Palestinians seeking another
package of international aid, this is a good time to hold Arafat to his
promise to relinquish some power and begin paving the way for true succession.
The favorite candidate of the Quartet and Israel is the reform-minded
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad. Sharon met him over the weekend.
But there were reports he had taken himself out of contention, making
it likely that Abu Mazen, the number two figure in the Palestinian Authority,
would get the job.
Arafat announced his decision Sunday standing amid the rubble of his Ramallah
headquarters, nearly destroyed by the Israelis. Did Arafat get the symbolism--that
his power is shattered and he should get out of the way? International
donors, and the Palestinians themselves, ought to make sure he does. Finally.
Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune