Wary Arafat Sticks to Ramallah

The PLC meeting is to be held in Arafat's office building, in the mostly destroyed Ramallah compound, rather than in the legislative council hall. The choice of venue stems from concerns harbored by PA officials.

The Palestinian Legislative Council meeting is to be held in Arafat's office building, in the mostly destroyed Ramallah compound, rather than in the legislative council hall. The choice of venue stems from concerns harbored by PA officials - they are worried the Israel Defense Forces that have occupied the city, would try to stop Arafat's departure from his offices in the compound.

Alternatively they could take control of Arafat's office building the moment he leaves it. But IDF officers have hinted to council members that they intend to make the troops "disappear" in Ramallah while the assembly is in session.

Palestinian commentators have been speculating about the attendance for the expected legislative council meetings. It is not clear how many of the council's current roster of 85 members will be able to make it to the sessions in Ramallah. Over the weekend a list of 14 Gaza Strip based council members whose departure "has been refused" was relayed to the Palestinians (36 council members are Gaza Strip residents). But Israeli authorities have indicated that movement permits will be available to all of the council's members who live on the West Bank.

A Palestinian source told Ha'aretz some council members who live in northern parts of the West Bank will refuse to use Israel travel permits. These council members, the source said, oppose in principle the Israeli order stipulating that any Palestinian who wants to go from one city to another on the West Bank requires special authorization.

Dead man banned

Wajih Jaghi, from the Gaza Strip, was one of the 14 council members whose departure has been blocked by Israel, Palestinian sources report. The catch, however, is that Jaghi passed away four months ago. He was one of six council members with close affiliation to Islamic movements (Palestinian opposition forces boycotted elections in 1996, and so none of these six officially represent an Islamic movement) whose names are cited on the list of those ineligible for travel permits. Six more on the list belong to Fatah; the last two are former members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Jaghi's inclusion on the list of Gaza-confined council members - a list whose members the Sharon government accuses of being "involved in terror" - was met with ridicule on the Gaza Strip. Gaza sources yesterday said several members on this list of 14 travel frequently overseas, via Egypt. "If they were really involved in terror, Israel would stop them at the border," one person on the list said.

Another member of the list of 14, Rawhi Fattouh, council secretary general and a senior Fatah figure, took part in a council meeting in Ramallah two weeks ago. Yesterday he arrived in Ramallah, coming in from Jordan.

Council members charge that Israel's prohibitions are "ridiculous," and prove that Israeli authorities lack any serious charges against the 14 persons on the list. The main intention of the bans, these legislative council members claim, is to disrupt the Palestinians' effort to administer a democratic, legislative institution. Council members from Gaza do not face foreboding communication problems. They can be hooked up to colleagues on the West Bank via a video conference system. This system has been installed at the council's chambers on the Gaza Strip, and also in Arafat's Ramallah office and the city's Council hall, with the help of U.S. government (USAID) financing.

Acting in response to the widely-held view on the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Ariel Sharon wants to disrupt the council sessions and foment disputes among its members, council members have decided to do whatever it takes to hold meetings this week. Several Fatah members, persons named on the list of 14 in the Gaza Strip, and delegates from opposition movements are expected to vote against the new cabinet. Such council members are also among those in the PA who have in recent years expressed criticism of governmental norms fostered by Yasser Arafat and other top PA officials.