NEWS

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asks for outside observers

RAMALLAH – Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat made a double appeal to the international community on Tuesday for the immediate implementation of the road map in the Middle East and to send international observers to the area. Arafat was speaking at his headquarters in Ramallah to a delegation from the Socialist International, where despite continued threats by the Israeli government to remove him, he had many reasons to be in a good mood. First, there was the almost universal support from the UN General Assembly, (where the only countries to vote with the US and Israel were the Marshall Islands and Micronesia). Then came a statement by the leader of the Israeli opposition, Shimon Peres, who not only condemned Sharon’s plan to oust Arafat, but said the Palestinian Authority leader had deserved his Nobel Peace Prize. Moreover, Arafat had at his side Tuesday members of socialist parties in power in many countries of the world (PASOK was represented by Costas Stefanidis), as well as the new Palestinian Prime Minster Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) who is expected to announce the formation of a broadly representative government within the next few days. «Some have called you an obstacle to the peace process and non-existent. I do not understand how anyone can be both of those things at once,» said Thorbjorn Jagland, representative of the Socialist International, referring to the US government positions. «For us, you are the democratically elected president of the Palestinian Authority. We believe that the best hope for you is the emergence of a government that will give new impetus to the peace process.» Arafat’s statement During brief talks with a small group of foreign correspondents, Arafat said: «The Sharon government has blown up the peace process that began with the road map and was strengthened by the unilateral truce (‘hudna’) called by the Palestinian organizations. They turned the martyred Jenin into a ‘Jeninigrad.’ They executed dozens of cadres, built a wall of shame and occupied 33 percent of cultivated land on the West Bank. Yet I insist on the policy of the ‘Peace of the Brave’ which we began with the late Yitzhak Rabin when he was Israeli prime minister, before he was murdered by Israeli extremists. I hope President Bush will progress with the implementation of the road map, and I want the international community to send observers to the area so there can be daily monitoring of the situation.» In response to Peres’s statement, Arafat said that in Israel «there are voices raised in favor of peace, people with whom we have worked in the past and with whom we can work in the future, such as the Labor leader Shimon Peres.» Arafat also castigated Israel for its refusal to recognize the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem and the restrictions on access to the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. Prime Minister Abu Ala commented on the process of forming a government. «Today the Central Committee of Fatah met on this very issue. We are in contact with all Palestinian organizations without exception and hope to form a government with the broadest possible support. I am also referring to the parties of the Left as well as to modern Islamists who will most likely participate, even if Hamas does not,» he said. Until late last night, delegates of all Palestinian organizations chaired by Arafat were meeting at what remained of the ruined palace of Mukataa, on this issue. The Socialist International delegates then went on to Tel Aviv, where they met with representatives of the Israeli left, including Peres, Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Sharon’s defense minister during the massive operations of spring 2002) and Efrem Snech. Peres expressed doubts as to Abu Ala’s ability to control the armed Palestinian groups and moderated his gestures of previous days, attributing grave responsibilities to Arafat for the suicide attacks. He was criticized by members of many delegations, including that of the leftist Israeli party Meretz and of PASOK, who said that only the Palestinians had the right to elect their leaders. Scenarios Rumors are rife in Tel Aviv of an imminent government reshuffle that would bring Peres and the Labor Party into a «grand coalition» government with Sharon. If this occurs, in combination with the unavoidable removal of the ultra-right and ultra-orthodox members of the government, this could lead to reduced tension. Pressure is being brought to bear in this direction from various sources abroad, as was evident at a celebration last Sunday in Tel Aviv for Peres’s 80th birthday, where guests included former US President Bill Clinton, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and representatives of Fatah. Clinton made a pointed criticism of the Sharon government regarding the settlements and the «fence» on the West Bank and said there could be no peace in the region without an independent, democratic Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Sharon’s position appears to be weakened within Israel as well; accusations in the media of financial scandals focused on Sharon’s son. The prime minster would perhaps like to use Peres as a political crutch, although many Israelis believe that this would prove to be the coup de grace for the Labor Party, which is already dealing with an outright mutiny on its left, militant, pro-peace flank.