Cement, oils, taxis, honey, air conditioners, construction, bulldozers, rugs, drinks, water, health clubs, a Chinese restaurant - these are the business interests and enterprises in which Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qureia was - and in some cases remains - involved. Construction of the PLC building in Abu Dis would have netted him a hefty profit, as it would have done for his partner and competitor Mohammed Rashid, the walking wallet of Yasser Arafat.
Palestinians provided information about this during the Oslo years to the Civil Administration, which included it in an internal document on the "monopolist regime," like a cocked weapon. Last week, while Qureia dithered over whether to accept the appointment as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, he was accused of corruption in leaflets circulated in the territories. A genuine protest by bitter Palestinians or psychological warfare by Israeli intelligence? Both scenarios or a combination thereof are possible.
The Palestinian leadership is corrupt. A little less now after the purges and transparency drive led by Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, who among others, damaged the income of the gas and tobacco thugs, but nonetheless to be expected in a society in formation, where without millions or militias, there is no political power. The revenues flow, unequally, to the state, party and family. If the Israeli separation fence needs cement and it is cheaper for the Israeli contractors to buy it from Palestinian suppliers and Qureia is one of those in the PA who profit from selling cement, is Qureia for or against the fence?
Qureia is experiencing what five Israeli prime ministers learned over the last decade: It is impossible with Yasser Arafat - and impossible without him. Arafat's old hobby was teasing prime ministers Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and especially Sharon. His new hobby is to do the same to the Palestinian prime ministers, eating Mahmoud Abbas alive, biting into Qureia, whose original enthusiasm for building on top of the rubble left behind by what happened to Abbas has chilled.
The emergency government Qureia planned, about seven ministers, was too narrow for Arafat, who needs at least 20 ministers to maneuver among them. Who wants to be Arafat's No. 2, a prime minister in the Syrian or Egyptian mold, a decaying prop in the hands of the ruler? The only consideration in favor is positioning before Arafat passes on to the next world. Those in the right seat of the seesaw at that moment will enjoy an advantage in the battle for the leadership.
The date of promotion to Arafat's seat is not known and as far as the constitutional rules of succession are concerned, Qureia would be best to stick to his seat as the PLC speaker. Moving into the premier's seat could turn out to be a bad deal if the next speaker, semi-anonymous, finds himself temporarily filling in for Arafat and then permanently, like Anwar Sadat, treated scornfully on the day Gamal Abdel Nasser died.
The Palestinians' disaster is the utterly absolute identification of Palestine with Arafat. He acts as if "l'etat - and the revolution - c'est moi," and if it's him, they won't have a state. The Sharon government also fell into that trap, with its hollow decision to invent new adjectives to describe Arafat: removable, expellable, tossable.
Israel's disaster is that it is also ruled by a man who cannot distinguish between his private pleasures and the interests of the state, and who mocks the idea that attributes not only rights but also - and first of all - duties to a leader. The common denominator to all the criminal suspicions about the Sharon family is that the state of Israel, through its police and prosectors, is trying to enforce the law, and the head of government is trying to foil those very efforts.
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