RAMALLAH Ñ Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has been
confronted by a vigorous struggle by his ruling Fatah movement to reduce his
powers as part of a reform campaign.
Hundreds of Fatah members, including key veterans, have joined an effort
for reform within the ruling Palestinian movement that would include
elections and a significant reduction in Arafat's authority. The effort also
envisioned the conversion of the Fatah-dominated Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade
into a political movement and a purge of most of Arafat's aides accused of
The document was drafted and distributed in wake of Arafat's decision to
end most of the funding to Al Aqsa. Palestinian sources said Arafat
significantly reduced funding to Al Aqsa in May after he agreed to a demand
by donor nations to directly pay PA security forces through the Finance
Ministry, headed by U.S.-educated minister Salam Fayyad.
"Over the last two months, the entire attitude by Al Aqsa toward Arafat
has changed," a PA official said. "As long as Arafat was paying the bills,
Al Aqsa consistently pledged allegiance to him. Once the money stopped, Al
Aqsa has been looking for options."
The 10-page document appeared to be part of an effort by Al Aqsa Ñ
established by Arafat in 2000 to lead the Palestinian war against Israel Ñ
to garner support from within the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as from
other insurgency groups. The plan called for the opposition Hamas and
Islamic Jihad to join a national unity government in which Arafat would turn
into a figurehead rather than the sole authority he has been since 1994.
The document also asserted that the PA has been a vehicle for corruption
by senior Fatah officials. Al Aqsa criticized the excessive lifestyle led by
Arafat's aides and their families.
"Wives and sons and daughters of officials are registered as employees
and receive high salaries from the Palestinian
Authority and are either at home or abroad," the document said.
PA officials and Palestinian sources close to Al Aqsa said the drive
against Arafat was sparked by the halt in salaries to the insurgency group.
They described a meeting in which senior Al Aqsa operatives pleaded with
Arafat to stop Fayyad from removing thousands of police officers from the PA
payroll. Most Al Aqsa insurgents had been registered as PA police and
security officers to ensure that they receive a monthly salary Ñ financed
by the European Union and donor nations.
"Arafat shook his head without saying a word," a PA source who recalled
the meeting said. "Then, he finally said, 'Why don't you talk to Fayyad. He
controls the money, now.'"
Many Al Aqsa members as well Fatah members have decided to support
former PA security Mohammed Dahlan in the effort to institute reform.
Palestinian sources said Dahlan has told Al Aqsa and Fatah operatives that
his drive to marginalize Arafat and expel his aides has been supported by
the international community, including Egypt and the United States.
Dahlan has been organizing meetings to prepare for Fatah elections by
September 2004, an effort opposed by Arafat. Palestinian sources said the
participation of Al Aqsa fighters could provide Fatah dissidents with armed
support that could resist intimidation from Arafat and his supporters.
"Dahlan is promising Al Aqsa and Fatah dissidents that they won't be
swept aside," a PA official said. "There could be a confrontation soon
between Dahlan and Arafat."