JERUSALEM — Saturday, September 6, 2003, Mahmoud Abbas (nom de guerre: Abu Mazen) resigned the Palestinian Authority prime-ministerial post to which he was appointed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat a mere four months ago. By Sunday, Ahmed Qureia (nom de guerre: Abu Ala) was appointed, also by Yasser Arafat, as the new PA prime minister. According to reports out of the PA on Sunday night, Arafat gave Abu Ala five weeks to put together a new government. Then, if — and only if — the new government is approved by Arafat, will the PA legislative council get to review it.
In other words, Abu Ala is not an elected representative of anyone, he’s an Arafat appointee and loyalist, and a long-time central PLO figure, whose major decisions will be subject to Yasser Arafat’s veto. Just like Abu Mazen.
Despite Israeli and American declarations that Arafat is “irrelevant”, PA leader Abu Mazen saw things quite differently. As he had repeated several times since his appointment, on September 4, just prior to his resignation, Abu Mazen stated: Arafat is “the elected, legitimate, constitutional and historical president of the Palestinian people.” In late July, the then-PA prime minister elucidated this point in an interview with Newsweek magazine senior editor Lally Weymouth. When asked if Arafat has to approve his actions as prime minister, Abu Mazen answered: “All the actions, all the actions. He is the leader of the Palestinian people.”
On a practical level, as well, as reported by Arutz Sheva correspondent Haggai Huberman in July: “Yasser Arafat is the main power in the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen controls hardly anything…. Most of the treasury is in Arafat’s hands, and even Salam Fayad, the new Treasury Minister who is said to be an Abu Mazen loyalist, takes his orders from Arafat…. All the regional governors are Arafat men…. After the recent meeting with Sharon, and then after the meeting with Condoleezza Rice, [Abu Mazen and Mohammed Dahlan] went straight to the Mukata to brief Arafat.” Similarly, the July 17-23 edition of al-Ahram Weekly noted that, per agreement, disputes between Arafat and Abu Mazen were to be referred to a committee made up of four high-ranking Fatah figures — all Arafat loyalists.
With Abu Ala, things will be no different. On Monday, the “prime minister-select” told the Gulf-based al-Jazeera satellite network that, before he formally accepts the appointment, he wants to be sure that the United States and Israel “change their attitude” regarding PLO leader Yasser Arafat. He will not enter into a position that he knows ahead of time will lead to failure, he told the Arabic news network.
Sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voiced a strong concern that the newly appointed PA leader will be nothing more than “a puppet of Arafat.” Officially, as well, the prime minister’s office issued a statement saying, “It goes without saying that Israel will not countenance a situation in which control of the Palestinian leadership reverts back to Yasser Arafat or someone who does his bidding.” Health Minister Danny Naveh warned that Abu Mazen’s resignation is a sign that the “terror regime” will continue, and Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Abu Ala is fully identified with Arafat.
The PA leadership, for its part, laid the blame for the Abu Mazen resignation and the recent obstacles in the roadmap (how not?) at Israel’s doorstep. As early as July, senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted by the Palestine Media Center as saying, “I don’t think Abu Mazen has a problem with the Palestinian Legislative Council or the Palestinian people. His problem is with Israel’s lack of implementation of the peace roadmap.” More recently, an official PLO press release accused Israel of “launching an all-out war to marginalize PM Mahmoud Abbas’ government.” This sentiment was also echoed by PA minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and PA foreign-affairs minister Nabil Shaath.
Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon took a wider view of the PA political shift and told Arutz Sheva Radio, “At this rate, instead of Abu Mazen, we’ll have Abu Ala, and he’ll be replaced by Abu Ali, and then Abu Jilda or whoever — there are a lot of Abu’s in the world — but what we need is something to replace this failed Oslo program. The entire leadership must be expelled, including Abu Ala and including Arafat, or even killed, if that’s what the security organs decide. But we have to escape the pre-conception that it has something to do with the specific leader of the PA.”
— Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor at www.IsraelNN.com.