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7/23/04 - PALESTINIAN TURMOIL - 2004-07-23

Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat has fired his cousin, Musa Arafat, as newly appointed head of security in the Gaza strip. The appointment set off demonstrations and violence by approximately two-thousand Palestinians, leaving at least a dozen people wounded. The protesters said that the selection of Mr. Arafat’s relative was another example of cronyism and corruption within the Palestinian Authority.

Billions of dollars have been donated for Palestinian relief. The U.S. is a major contributor by supplying funds to non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. Other major contributors include Japan, the members of the European Union, Norway, the International Monetary Fund, and Arab League countries. But over the years, a significant amount has been stolen by Palestinian officials to enrich themselves. A 2003 study by the International Monetary Fund points out that from 1995 to 2000, about nine-hundred-million dollars was diverted to a special bank account controlled by Mr. Arafat. Mr. Arafat’s family members and other Palestinian leaders were also beneficiaries of money that was supposed to be used for the Palestinian people.

The unrest in Gaza, says U-N Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is a serious crisis. Mr. Annan says the Palestinians have to take steps “to bring it under control because without that, it is going to be very difficult to see any progress.” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell describes the Palestinian situation as “chaotic”:

“We have said all along that we believe reform was needed in the Palestinian community, that we needed an empowered prime minister, somebody who would have control over all the security forces and have control over the instruments of government. That has not happened.”

Mr. Powell says, “It is up to the Palestinian people and Palestinian leaders to determine how they wish to move forward”:

“We believe the correct path forward involves Mr. Arafat yielding power, real executive power, to a prime minister [and] for that prime minister to do what is needed for the Palestinian community. And when that happens, then we can get moving on a road map. We can deal with not only the security problems, but the economic problems that are afflicting the Palestinian people.”

Palestinian political reforms were discussed at the 2003 summit in Aqaba, Jordan, attended by President George W. Bush, King Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas, who, at the time, was the Palestinian prime minister. But no action followed by the Palestinians. Secretary of State Powell says the fault lies “at the feet of Yasser Arafat.”