Abu Ala Fails to Form Broad Palestinian Government

Ahmed Qureia’s plan to set up a broad 24-member national emergency government under Yasser Arafat’s guidance is dead in the water. It drowned in a wave of disapproval from the United States and the European Union, internal squabbles and open opposition from the outgoing Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dahlan.
Scrambling to salvage what they could, Abu Ala and Yasser Arafat, decided at a secret brainstorming session at Ramallah headquarters early on Tuesday, September 30, to try for a narrow government and have it in place with hours.
Even so, US secretary of state Colin Powell said in Detroit that if Abu Ala doesn’t make a solid commitment to the road map and clamp down on terrorists, “it is not clear how we can go forward.”
He was referring diplomatically to what are described by debkafile‘s exclusive sources as alarm bells jangling in several Western capitals, that forced Qureia and Arafat to back away from their first plan to set up a Palestinian administration under Arafat’s thumb with representation for terrorist factions.
In Washington, the Bush administration read with growing concern debkafile‘s reports that at least five of the 14 cabinet portfolios designated for Arafat’s majority Fatah faction were assigned to Tanzim militia terrorists. Hamas and the radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine were also promised seats at the cabinet table. Altogether seven of the new ministers of the “broad government” represented terrorist organizations.
Shortly before midnight on Monday, September 29, Washington sent a short, sharp message to Abu Ala.
“Forget it,” it said. “There will be no cooperation from here with your government; no monetary or any other support. As far as we are concerned, there is no government.”
Washington was most riled by the post awarded Hamas representative Moussa Zubut – euphemistically said to be acting on behalf of the “Islamic Bloc of Gaza” – which debkafile revealed was to be the back door for terrorist funding to reach the group in the guise of a ministerial budget. Zubut and Abu Ala had already worked out the mechanics of the transfer from Ramallah to Gaza.
US officials were also furious over the first-time presence in any Palestinian government of Karif Faran, a member of Naif Hawatme’s Palestine Democratic Front member. Faran, better known to Palestinians as “Amar Abu Leila”, is an ardent supporter of the deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
Working in its usual circuitous manner, the Bush administration – in a statement by erstwhile Middle East peace envoy Williams Burns that was couched as a blast against Jewish settlements – asked the Europeans to read Arafat the riot act over his cabinet choices.
A freeze on international funding stared Arafat in the face after the Europeans too warned him they would not tolerate terrorists as ministers in the Palestinian government.
The key European allies were quick to line up with Washington on this matter as a direct result of the slight thaw between the United States and Russia and Germany on the Iraq issue and the presence of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in the European Union presidency chair.
Arafat is also beset with trouble at home.
Dahlan, internal security minister in the sacked government of Abu Mazen, has been on the war path in the last week, resisting Abu Ala’s many pleas to join the government. Abu Ala has also failed to bring on board another influential Palestinian, Ahmad Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who has been confined in Jericho jail since May 2002 under US and British supervision for ordering the assassination of an Israeli minister.
Dahlan did not just say no, he also showed active defiance in a form Arafat has not faced before. He ordered thousands of his armed supporters into the streets of Gaza City and Khan Younes on Sunday, September 28. Firing in the air, they actually burned effigies of two top Fatah leaders, Hani al-Hassan and Abbas Zaki, Arafat’s instruments for bringing down the Abu Mazen government.
The demonstration told Arafat loud and clear: You may do what you will in Ramallah – topple governments or form new ones. But in Gaza I, Dahlan, rule the roost!
The demonstration went unreported by the Palestinian media. However, debkafile‘s Palestinian sources report that the earth shook under the Fatah’s old guard. The burning of two of their colleagues in effigy was seen as a direct threat to their own lives. Some top men were frightened enough to ask Dahlan through emissaries whether the street protests would continue and whether they were in danger. The former minister replied that his main concern was not Abu Ala’s government. He would continue to stage his campaign until Gazan and West Bank Palestinians were given a chance, their first in 13 years, to elect a new Fatah leadership. The Fatah old guard knows it has no hope of surviving a free election.
To recruit another adversary, Abu Ala made a pilgrimage to Jericho jail on Monday, September 29, to persuade Saadat to designate a PFLP representative for a broad-based cabinet. Saadat turned him down flat and said his radical group would not join a Palestinian government nor stop its terrorist activities as long as he remained in prison.
Abu Ala returned to Ramallah empty-handed and, according to several Palestinian sources, red-faced. But his trials and tribulations were far from over. He found Arafat and Nasser Yousef, his designated national security chief and interior minister, butting heads. Arafat and Abu Ala had hoped Yousef would sit back and let them run the show for the sake of a double portfolio and place of honor at the cabinet table. The plan was for Arafat to use Yousef in order to retain control and command of the Palestinian security and intelligence services over US and Israeli objections. But the veteran general had other ideas. Earlier this week, he asked Arafat when control would be handed over.
Arafat told him to shut up and do as he is told.
Yousef stormed out of the boss’s office. He turned away Abu Ala’s pleas through messengers to change his mind.
Early Tuesday September 30, Arafat, Abu Ala and several Fatah leaders put their heads together at Ramallah headquarters to decide how to proceed from the wreckage of their national emergency government. They decided to try for a much smaller slate and see how it went down with the Palestinians, Washington, Jerusalem and Europe.

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