Arafat, Abbas in patronage showdown

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

RAMALLAH The two top Palestinian leaders have issued conflicting orders in what has become a power struggle backed by force.

PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has ordered the replacement of senior officials appointed by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. In response, Arafat has ordered the officials not to leave their posts.

The most bitter of the confrontations concerns the decision by Abbas to replace the head of the PA Civil Service Department. Abbas ordered the dismissal of Arafat loyalist Mohammed Abdul Aziz Abu Sharia in what was regarded as an open challenge to the PA chairman, Middle East Newsline reported.

Over the weekend, Palestinian sources said, Arafat ordered Abu Sharia not to leave his office. At the same time, Arafat sent scores of agents from the ruling Fatah movement to block Abu Sharia's offices to prevent the entry of Abbas appointee Saher Bseiso.

The Civil Service Department is regarded as the key source of appointments for all senior officials in the PA. The department oversees the hiring of more than 70,000 government employees, including director-generals of ministries.

On Thursday, the Palestinian Legislative Council was expected to begin hearings on a proposal to hold a vote of no-confidence in Abbas. The United States has warned the 83 PLC members not to vote against Abbas, but Palestinian sources said more than half of the Fatah-dominated council supports a proposed no-confidence motion.

Another dispute between Abbas and Arafat regards the chairman's appointment of Brig. Gen. Jibril Rajoub as PA national security adviser. Abbas has viewed the appointment as seeking to undermine PA Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan.

Several Palestinian legislators have proposed the establishment of a five-member national security council. The council would be headed by Arafat and include Abbas, Dahlan and Rajoub.

On Monday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily reported that the United States has rejected an appeal from Arab allies for a high-level meeting with Arafat. The newspaper said Arab allies of Washington had urged the Bush administration to allow Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to secretly meet Arafat during his planned tour of the Middle East later this month.

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