Ariel Sharon may renew his threats to harm Yasser Arafat in order to improve his position before the vote in the Likud. And then again, he may not. What is certain is that Arafat and his people did not get particularly upset when they heard Sharon's threats.
After the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Arafat's people sent out vociferous cries for help because they feared Arafat would be next on the hit list. This wasn't because they had any hard information about Israeli plans to target Arafat, but because they were sick of all the media attention, both locally and internationally, being directed for so long at Hamas and its leaders, with no one taking any interest in Arafat and the Palestinian Authority any more.
The media attention also produced important political results. A public opinion survey conducted by the Institute for Research and Dialogue of Beit Sahur, and published last week, shows that Hamas is currently the largest movement in the territories. When asked who they would vote for if elections were held that day, 31 percent chose Hamas, and only 27 percent said Fatah. The survey was conducted after Yassin was killed but before Rantisi. The other Palestinian factions won single-digit percentages.
Results of this kind, published in the Palestinian press, certainly terrify Arafat.
To this should be added the voices that have been heard for the past few months claiming there is no longer any need for the PA and that it should be dismantled. The PA allows the Israel Defense Forces to control the West Bank without bearing any governmental responsibility, that is, without administering the services provided to the people. As far as Israel is concerned, that is "occupation deluxe," as many in the Palestinian public like to call it, or as Mohammed Dahlan recently told the Al-Arabiya television station, "The Palestinian Authority is allowing Israel a clean occupation."
Even Jabril Rajoub, who spoke in the past in great anger against anyone who even raised the idea of dismantling the Palestinian Authority, is now less vehement about the subject, and says the Palestinian government should not be dismantled because it continues to cause problems for Israel.
Against this background, it was reported last week that the matter of the cabinet's resignation was discussed (apparently for the first time) at a Palestinian cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) confirmed this in a meeting with reporters in his office in Abu Dis in East Jerusalem. The resignation came up for discussion in light of the understanding attained between Sharon and Bush, which in the view of most Palestinians kills any chances of renewing negotiations based on the road map.
"If there are no negotiations, who needs a Palestinian prime minister, who was chosen almost solely for that purpose?" asked senior PA officials. Qureia's talk with the reporters gave rise to rumors of his imminent resignation, but no confirmation was provided.
Despite the PA's shaky situation, it has not fallen apart. The Palestinian government could come to an end tomorrow morning only on one condition: Arafat's assassination. There is no one in the Palestinian leadership who has even a shadow of the leadership abilities needed to succeed Arafat.
According to the official procedure, if the head of the Palestinian Authority is no longer functioning, he is to be replaced during an open transition period by the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hardly anyone in the Palestinian public knows who the man is, but that doesn't much matter. There is an almost total consensus among the Palestinian top brass that if Arafat goes, it will mean the end of the Palestinian Authority.
The United States does not want to see the PA destroyed. On more than one occasion, Ariel Sharon has also expressed his fear of seeing the PA fall apart, at which time Israel would have to replace it.
The conclusion is that no one is going to harm Arafat.
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