Even Palestinians Are Down on Arafat's Leadership

September 13, 2002

The worm has turned against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The previously spineless Palestinian legislature - treated contemptuously by Arafat as his political rubber stamp - finally got fed up with the incompetence and corruption of his government.

Parliamentary leaders Wednesday demanded a resignation of his cabinet - and got it, en masse. Confronted by demands for democratic change that he had been unwilling to grant, and a likely revolt, Arafat had no choice but to accept the dissolution of his entire government. It's good to see that Palestinians themselves have recognized the need for change and Arafat's moral bankruptcy. Perhaps this will be the start of real reform in the Palestinian Authority.

The showdown with parliament this week marked the first serious internal challenge to Arafat's power and legitimacy since he returned from exile eight years ago to take charge of the Palestinian Authority. It was particularly significant because the pressures for change and the discontent with Arafat's way of governing came from within the Palestinian political leadership, not from Israel or the United States.

The legislators saw Arafat's newly installed "reform" cabinet precisely for what it was: a cynically transparent reshuffle of some of the same old poltroons, time-servers and corrupt chieftains with whom Arafat has surrounded himself since he morphed from guerrilla leader into a poor facsimile of a statesman.

The toppling of his cabinet is a major blow to Arafat's prestige within and outside Palestine. But the wholesale flushing of Arafat's cabinet is not all good news for Israel or Washington. At least a couple of Arafat's ministers had been installed at Israeli and American behest, notably Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh.

Palestinians greeted the parliamentary snub to Arafat with public cheers. But Arafat is by no means out for the count. If presidential elections were to be held in January - that's in doubt for now - Arafat probably would still win, if only because he has no credible opponents.

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.