Arafat getting cabin fever in Ramallah

Thursday, June 17, 2004

CAIRO The regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak believes Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat will torpedo any plan to reduce his authority over Palestinian security forces unless he is granted freedom to travel.

Egyptian officials who have met Arafat said pressure by Cairo has not yielded any significant change in the position of the PA chairman. The officials said Mubarak expects Arafat to pledge support for the Egyptian security plan, only to disrupt its implementation at a later stage.

"Arafat's major goal is to use the Egyptian plan to end his isolation," an Egyptian official said. "There's no way we can guarantee this until there are results on the ground."

On Thursday, PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei met Mubarak as well as Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman. Officials said both Egyptians would discuss Cairo's security plan and timetable for its implementation, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials said Arafat wants Egypt to press Israel to renew his freedom of movement, both within the PA areas as well as the right to travel abroad. Since 2001, Israel's military has confined Arafat to Ramallah, where he has been stuck most of the time in his headquarters in that West Bank city.

So far, Arafat has sent a letter to Mubarak that expressed agreement to the Egyptian security plan. The plan called for the deployment of up to 150 trainers in the Gaza Strip to help reorganize and enhance PA security forces. Drafted by Suleiman, the plan also called for the merger of the 13 PA agencies into three security organizations police, internal security and foreign intelligence. The new agencies would be headed by a new PA interior minister who would be under Qurei's, rather than Arafat's, authority.

Officials said Suleiman, scheduled to travel to Ramallah at the end of next week, has sought to win Arafat's agreement to appoint an interior minister responsible for the security services. Officials expect Arafat to appoint either PA secretary-general Tayeb Abdul Rahim or former Nablus Mayor Ghassan Shakaa to the ministerial post.

"Arafat will only appoint somebody who is completely beholden to him and that means that Arafat will continue to control PA security," the official said. "We have major doubts over whether he will allow any meaningful reform."

Officials said Cairo's concern was that Egyptian security personnel in the Gaza Strip would be attacked by Palestinian insurgency groups. They said Arafat has already organized Palestinian unrest against the Egyptian diplomatic presence in the Gaza Strip and encouraged insurgency groups to protest the security plan.

Suleiman also plans to meet representatives of Hamas over the next few weeks to obtain the insurgency group's agreement to the Egyptian security deployment in the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been critical of Egypt's cooperation with the Israeli plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank.

Mubarak, officials said, has sought guarantees from Israel and the United States that the Egyptian security presence in the Gaza Strip would not be harmed after an Israeli withdrawal from the area. Israel plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts

Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives