Yasser Arafat survived the latest, and perhaps greatest, challenge to his authority in Ghazzah last month, when Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei withdrew his resignation on July 27, ending two weeks of uncertainty and restoring some measure of stability after a period in which the Palestinian Authority, dominated by, Arafat's Fatah movement, had threatened to dissolve into in-fighting. At the peak of the problems, different security factions fought gun battles in the streets of Ghazzah and Arafat's attempt to impose order only added fuel to the flames.
Other Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as other factions of the PLO, avoided getting involved in the politicking, calling instead for the formation of a collective leadership or national coalition government, a call for Arafat to share power that he has always resisted. How long the latest agreement will last remains to be seen. Qurei reportedly withdrew his resignation after Arafat promised to transfer control of the police forces to him, something Arafat has promised before without ever actually doing. There are strong suspicions that the latest agreement between the two men merely patches cracks that are bound to open again in the near future.
The crisis began on July 16, when Fatah militia groups in Ghazzah abducted two Palestinian police commanders and four French aid workers, demanding an end to corruption and reform of the management of the security forces, particularly those headed by "old guard" Palestinian leaders close to Arafat. However, this was only the culmination of a process of increasing dissatisfaction, disillusion and alienation within the security forces, caused largely by Arafat's dictatorial and personal style of leadership, coupled with his determination to remain in power at all costs, and exacerbated by the constant Israeli pressure under which all Palestinian institutions operate at all times.
Although the abducted men were quickly released, Arafat responded to the demands by sacking the PA commander as demanded, and by agreeing to streamline the numderous security forces in Ghazzah into just three. However, he then made the situation worse rather than better by announcing that these three forces would be responsible to himself as head of the Palestinian National Security Council, rather than to the prime minister, Ahmed Qurei. He also appointed his nephew, Mousa Arafat, hated for his brutality when he was head of the PA's Military Intelligence (MI), as head of the largest of the PA security forces, the National Security Forces (NSF).
This was unacceptable to Qurei and also to many in the Fatah security forces. Qurei resigned and there were protests among the security forces, including the torching of a Military Intelligence office in Khan Yunis and a major attack on another in Rafah. In perhaps the most serious incident, Nabil Amr, the PA information minister and a fierce critic of Arafat, was shot and wounded by an unknown gunman in Ramallah.
It was this instability that led Ahmed Qurei to submit his resignation, which Arafat refused to accept, bringing about almost two weeks of turmoil. The only major concession that Arafat made was to reinstate Abdul-Rasai Mujaydah as overall head of the NSF, a limited concession as his nephew remains head of the NSF in Ghazzah, the scene of the main unrest.
There is a tendency among supporters of the Palestinians to defend Arafat, as he has long been regarded as the symbol of the Palestinian resistance and the main target of Israeli anger. As long as the Israelis have continued to demand his resignation, many Palestinians have been determined to resist them by insisting that he remain in place. However, his style of leadership and his determination to hold as much power as possible in his own hands has gradually alienated many within the Palestinian movement, particularly the "young guard", leaders who have come up through the Fatah ranks in Palestine, rather than the "old guard" who were in exile with Arafat until he returned to Palestine after the Oslo Accords.
One of the great achievements of the Palestinian movement has been to resist any major internecine conflict, despite very different ideas about the future of Palestine, and despite many provocations against Islamic groups, in particular by the PA. One can only hope that Arafat's last contribution to the Palestinian cause will not be to precipitate internal conflict that can only weaken the movement and the cause.