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Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has taken over responsibility for the Jerusalem portfolio by deposing prominent Palestinian peace activist Prof. Sari Nusseibeh.

Nussibeh, president of Al Quds University, hammered out a peace plan with former Shin Bet chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon earlier this year.

Sources in Nusseibeh's office last night said Arafat proposed that the official serve as one of nine people on an executive council that would handle the daily management of East Jerusalem. Arafat named himself as head of that committee as well as chairman of a broader committee of more than 30 members that will serve as a quasi-city council.

Nusseibeh has yet to decide whether he will accept Arafat's offer. His aides said he is considering leaving politics altogether.

A senior Palestinian official who asked to remain unnamed said that Nusseibeh's removal and the establishment of the two committees appear to be part of a pattern of eccentric behavior exhibited by Arafat. The official mentioned, for example, Arafat's announcement that East Jerusalem publisher Hanna Siniora would be the PA's ambassador in Washington, but when the prospective envoy arrived in the U.S. capital, Arafat backed down from the appointment.

Recent visitors to Arafat's office in the Muqata said his behavior has become strange. They said he was not focused, spoke in a confused manner, and his lips are shaking again. His doctors attribute the shaking lips to neurological damage that followed an airplane crash in the Libyan desert that Arafat survived.

Nusseibeh was appointed the PLO's representative in East Jerusalem more than a year ago after the sudden death of Faisal Husseini. In the past year, Nusseibeh has played a high-profile role as a leading Palestinian moderate, participating in countless meetings with Israeli peace activists. He openly called for an end to the attacks on Israeli civilians, and was showered with condemnations by Fatah leaders and the PA as well as by Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, who ordered his offices closed at the university alleging they served as PA offices.

During the past year, Nusseibeh and Ayalon worked out a draft peace plan based on the 1967 borders without a right of return for Palestinian refugees. The paper was presented publicly a few months ago at a modest ceremony in Athens attended by former U.S. president Bill Clinton and the Greek foreign minister.

Yesterday, however, Nusseibeh issued a statement saying that in protest of the arrest of Musa Balawneh, a former militant-turned-peace activist in Nusseibeh's "People's Peace Campaign," which hopes to get one million signatures on the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan, Nusseibeh is ceasing his peace activist work in the Palestinian community, his dialogue with Israel, and his efforts to transform the armed intifada into a non-violent civil disobedience campaign - until Balawneh is released.

Balawneh was arrested Wednesday night at a checkpoint near Nablus while on his way to a meeting of peace activists in Ramallah. According to Nusseibeh, Balawneh has not been accused of anything nor informed of the reason for the arrest. Balawneh's travel permit, according to the Nusseibeh statement, was issued by Israel at Nusseibeh's request and with Israeli understanding that he would not be intercepted or arrested.

"Therefore, Nusseibeh declares the cessation of all his peace efforts in the Palestinian community and dialogue activities until this matter is resolved properly and without further delay," the statement said.

Nusseibeh remains "committed to his principles, but... the very credibility of the peace efforts is seriously undermined by such actions, which seem to reflect bad faith," according to the statement. Nusseibeh "holds the anti-peace lobby in the government of Israel responsible for such actions that undermine the efforts of peacemaking."