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By Safa Haeri
Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2004

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By Safa Haeri

PARIS, 25 Aug. (IPS) In his last intervention at the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, Yaser Arafat, the 75 years old Chairman of the Palestinian Authority “admitted” to wide spread “corruption” and “mistakes” in his Administration and promised he would take measure to wipe out abuse of power.

This was the first time that the ageing leader was making such dramatic “confessions” in public, but failed to spell out concrete actions to reform a system based on nepotism, clientalism and favouritism.

We must show the courage to recognise our mistakes, there is no one free from mistakes, from me on down. Even the prophets made mistakes.

In an unconvincing effort to calm down the unrest in Gaza that has produced one of the strongest challenges to his authority since he returned from exile a decade ago, Mr. Arafat said “Some unacceptable mistakes have been made by our institutions and some have abused their positions and violated the trust that has been placed in them”.

Arafat accused Israel of trying to sabotage his government and of wrecking the peace process with its continued settlement activity and building of the West Bank separation barrier.

However, in his televised address from his decay and ruin office of Muqata, in Ramallah, where he is living in a semi-detained situation since three years, Abou Ammar, Arafat’s nom de guerre, also said that one shouldn’t blame only the occupation.

"We must show the courage to recognise our mistakes," he said. "There is no one free from mistakes, from me on down. Even the prophets made mistakes", he said, as younger generation Palestinians denounced the chaos, lack of security, overlapping institutions, administrative corruption and long-postponed elections.

Mr. Arafat also admitted that "no real effort" had been made to enforce law and order and said, "More efforts and support should be made for the security of the people".

Without naming names, the Old Man, as the Palestinians call him affectively, went on telling lawmakers and the Palestinians at large, "Some mistakes have been made by our institutions and some have abused their positions and violated the trust placed in them". “No one has been immune, starting from me downward”, he pointed out.

Arafat expects them to take his word for it after all these years he refused to reform.

But when Abed Jawad Salah, a dissident legislator known for his unabated struggle to denounce corruption at “high positions” interrupted Arafat charging him, "You are protecting them, Abou Amar”, he angrily shouted back, "I'm protecting them?". You better be careful!”

In a petition signed with some twenty other Palestinian personalities from the territories in 1999, Mr. Salah had strongly denounced the “tyrannical” nature of the Palestinian administrative system and accused Arafat to have “open the gates to exploiters”.

In response, he had been badly beaten up by the police.

A recent poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, 90 per cent of the people questioned acknowledged the existence of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, with some 65 per cent of them describing it as “wide spread.

As to the identity of those behind the turmoil, 61.1% blamed elements inside Fatah, Yaser Arafat’s own organisation, while the rest are convinced that regional and international parties were involved.

The French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine revealed last February that Mrs. Souha Arafat, the Christian-born wife of the Palestinian is under investigation by French police for two suspicious transfers of 9 million Euros from Switzerland into her bank account in Paris, where she lives in a semi-luxurious disgrace.

The nomination of Mousa Arafat, the nephew of the Palestinian leader to the sensitive post of security services is another perfect example of nepotism and a decision that triggered a wave of unrests in the Gaza strip.

“If the Old Man is serious, why he keeps ministers accused of corruption”, asks Hasan Khreish, the legislator who wrote a report on the case known in the territories as the “cement scandal”, involving Civilian Affairs and Economy ministers suspected of “helping” an Israeli firm to buy cheap priced cement from an Egyptian factory with Palestinian documents against hefty commissions.

The parliament speaker, Rawhi Fatouh, who introduced Mr. Arafat, addressed him directly after his speech, saying "We need from you some formal decisions with your signature about issues you raised in the speech. The most important thing we need is your signature, and then we can start a revolution of reform that you, Abou Amar, will be leading. It will be called the presidential document for reform".

Arafat’s slow but steady descent from a zenith of popularity to inferno started after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations that many observers put the blame on the Palestinian leader.

But so far, the Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has refused to sign anti-corruption legislation demanded by lawmakers, as well as laws passed by parliament.

"He expects them to take his word for it after all these years he refused to reform", lawmaker Ziad Abu Amr noted, adding, "Wednesday's speech was his last chance to introduce much needed reforms, but is unlikely to sign the laws. The speech was only given to pacify the PLC”, he added.

"Arafat is not serious, or he would have been specific”, another legislator said, adding that the point is” not to admit vague mistakes but to be specific and then correct them".

If the speech was intended to convince the international community about his sincerity, one can say for sure and certain that it was an exercise in futility, for both the United States and the European Union remember that all the pledges he made before on their advises, including new elections and sweeping change never materialised.

While the US Administration said it was "unimpressed" by Arafat’s admission of mistakes and remains steadfast in its commitment not to negotiate with the veteran PLO leader whom Secretary of State Colin Powell last month accused of being the master of "yo-yo" insincerity, the 25-members European Union almost ignored the confessions.

Even France, the country that supported and backed Mr. Arafat at times he suffered bitter isolation, like in the nineties after he unwisely sided with the now toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in his attack against neighbouring Kuwait, showed no reaction.

The biggest sin Arafat committed was his public endorsement of terrorism and suicide attacks against civilian Israelis

Arafat’s slow but steady descent from a zenith of popularity to inferno started after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations that many observers put the blame on the Palestinian leader.

Former American President Bill Clinton who had arranger the meeting between the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yaser Arafat believed all the most difficult practical issues between the two sides had been solved, but (realised) that Arafat "seemed confused, not wholly in command of the facts", and that he ultimately "couldn't make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman" -- what Clinton calls "an error of historic proportions".

Actually, when this correspondent was flying with the PLO leader in the special plane provided to him and his small, hand picked delegation and few journalists and photographers by the late King Hasan II of Morocco for his trip to Washington for the historical shake hand with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, some advisors suggested Arafa should change his traditional military uniform and keffiyeh for a civilian dress and tie.

I suggested he better keep his usual outfit, as the plane was starting its approach.

On our way back to Tunis, where he had established his headquarters after being “saved” by the French in extremis from Beirut years ago under Israeli guns commanded by General Ariel Sharon, and being metamorphosed from a “terrorist” into a “respectable statesman” in less than 48 hours, I told him “Ra’is (President, in Arabic) Arafat, now it is time for you to change dress”.

But he never did, preferring to remain a “flying revolutionary leader” jumping from one capital to another talking to world leaders instead of becoming a statesman, a job that calls for a lot of responsibilities.

According to insiders, at Camp David, the Palestinians demanded sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem including the Haram-Asharif, or the Temple Mount as well as full implementation of the right of return of the refugees, under UN Resolution 1948, a request that Israelis refused, offering control of parts of East Jerusalem.

“Arafat was persuaded that the Israelis were setting a trap. His primary objective thus became to cut his losses rather than maximize his gains”, noted Hussein Agha, a Palestinian scholar and Robert Malley, an assistant to Clinton involved with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in their joint essay, “Camp David, The Tragedy of Errors”.

"I warned Arafat that he was single-handedly electing Sharon and that he would reap the whirlwind", Mr. Clinton wrote in his recent book, “My Life” published by Hutchinson.

Clinton took no pains to hide his disappointment at failing to go down in history as the American president who reconciled the Israelis and Palestinians and winning a Nobel Peace Prize. But he also tried to find an explanation for Arafat's intransigence.

"It was hard to know why he had moved so little", Clinton said. "I still didn't believe Arafat would make such a colossal mistake".

Ironically, when Arafat telephoned Clinton at the end of his office to thank him for his work and called him a great man, the former Democrat President replied:. "Mr Chairman, I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one", Clinton told The Guardian newspaper.

Asked by the paper whether he is convinced, as the Israelis are, that so long as Arafat is there, there is no Palestinian partner for peace, Clinton says no. “President Bush and Ariel Sharon make a mistake if they think they can ignore the veteran Palestinian leader”.

"Unless they just want to wait for him to become incapacitated or pass away or unless they seriously believe they can find a better negotiating partner in Hamas ... then they need to keep working to make a deal", he added in the exclusive interview carried out on 21 June 2004.

“Arafat admits to mistakes and corruption at a time that he has lost all his political charisma and power. His confessions demonstrates more the last efforts of a leader who has failed in his political action and has no significant role in the Palestinian-Israeli theatre, his political demise rather a way out of the present situation”, said Mansoor Farhang, a former Iranian ambassador at the United Nations now teaching Middle Eastern politics at New York universities.

As Palestinians are now looking for new generation of leaders “acceptable” also for the Israelis and the Americans, the fact is that like other Arab leaders, Abou Ammar, during his 40 years of undisputable reign over the destiny of the Palestinians, not only has groomed no one to succeed him, but also eliminated anyone who wanted to become a rival.

“The biggest sin Arafat committed was his public endorsement of terrorism and suicide attacks against civilian Israelis after the collapse of the Camps David talks, leading to renewed violence and ultimately the coming to power of Israel’s most radical elements”, Mr. Farhang concluded ENDS ARAFAT CONFESSIONS 25804

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Slowly, but steadly, Arafat went down, from a zenith of popularity to inferno



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