Arafat Leaves Qureia in Limbo, Picks Kaddoumi as Successor

Despite his staunch loyalty to Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Qureia looks like suffering the same fate as his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas – being ground to dust by his boss, according to debkafile‘s Palestinian sources. To generate a semblance of order, Arafat placed Qureia at the head of a “caretaker government” at midnight of November 4, when the provisional emergency government’s 30-day term expired. However, it is hard to gloss over his world record for changing prime ministers, one every three months. Qureia, better known as Abu Ala, was caught napping. A longtime ally, he never expected to be at the receiving end of the treatment meted out to the “American puppet,” Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen. Nevertheless, he found himself left high and dry as nominal head of a transitional cabinet that has no standing in the Palestinian constitution.
PLO mouthpiece Saeb Erekat assured the media the “caretaker” appointment was only made to bridge the few days before a fully-empowered government is installed. The reality is that Arafat’s maneuvers have again left his people without a legitimate government – anything to retain tight and complete control over Palestinian security forces and keep them harnessed to his campaign of suicidal terror.
Abu Ala, carefully fighting shy off any hint of contact with Israel or the Americans that might suggest disloyalty to Arafat, waited patiently for his formal confirmation as Palestinian prime minister. When the moment came and Abu Ala confronted him with three key issues, Arafat went into Sphinx mode, his latest trick for immobilizing everyone around him:
A. Qureia’s most urgent question was whether Nasser Yousef would be allowed to assume the position of security affairs ministers with real powers. debkafile‘s sources report that Yousef, less trusting than Abu Ala, demanded a public declaration from Arafat empowering him to carry out reforms in Palestinian security services.
Neither Abu Ala nor Yousef received an answer.
B. Qureia submitted his full cabinet line-up for Arafat’s approval to avoid Abu Mazen’s mistake of appointing ministers without prior consultation with the Palestinian Authority chairman.
C. Qureia requested Arafat’s endorsement of the new government’s policy guidelines before they were announced.
He received no answer on any of those points.
Arafat finally signed Abu Ala’s letter of appointment only after a number of European officials read him the riot act. They warned him against leaving the post of Palestinian prime minister open or confirming a government not committed to cracking down on terror and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. Nonetheless, the paper Arafat signed omitted mention of any obligation to counter terror, a ceasefire – or even a temporary lull in the violence. Still without uttering a word, Arafat named Abu Ala prime minister-designate. The European representatives returned to Ramallah headquarters in a flash with fresh imprecations – only to be told Arafat would reply in due time. He never did.
So what prompted Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to declare during his three-day visit to Moscow this week that a Palestinian government agreeable to fighting terrorism was close to formation and dialog on the Middle East road map to peace now possible?
Qureia has made it clear that he has no intention of antagonizing Arafat and losing his hard-won premiership by starting talks with Israel. Knowing this, Sharon’s optimism can only be explained by his conviction that Arafat is at death’s door. This assumption he shared with Russian president Vladimir Putin who, he found, had his own sources of information on the 74-year-old Palestinian leader’s state of health and was a lot less sure than Sharon of Arafat’s imminent death.
Arafat may be seriously ill, but no one can tell for sure exactly when he will shuffle off this mortal coil and he is using every moment to advance his ends. While Sharon pondered his early demise, Arafat dispatched an emissary to inform PLO hardliner Farouk Kaddoumi that he had been nominated his successor.
Kaddoumi, PLO political chief and de facto Palestinian foreign minister, refuses to set foot in Palestinian-controlled lands because he sees the 1993 Oslo accords as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause which, he insists, can only be pursued by “armed struggle.”
Arafat’s choice of bagman was as usual meaningful. It was Jibril Rajoub, whom a forgiving Arafat made chairman of the Palestinian national security council. Not too long ago, Rajoub was favored by the United States and Israel as one of the most pro-Western Palestinian security officials, who extended his protection to such so-called moderates as Abu Mazen and Sari Nusseibeh. The latter currently partners former Israeli Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon in a peace drive.
Rajoub has now turned round sufficiently to act for Arafat in crowning his successor, by which act the Palestinian leader is bidding for control over the fate of the Palestinian people beyond the grave. Most of all, he wants a guarantee that he is not succeeded by a leader prepared to cut short the Palestinian campaign of terror or join Israel on the road to peace. He wants the Oslo Accords buried with him for good.
He could not have chosen better. An enthusiastic supporter of Syrian-funded Palestinian terrorism, Kaddoumi makes no bones about where he stands – not only on the Oslo accords, but the privately-drafted “Geneva understandings”, initiated by Israeli opposition left-winger Yossi Beilin and Palestinian ex-information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. When asked for his view on this initiative, Kaddoumi replied, “The Geneva understandings” are among the worst proposals I’ve heard of recently. Even the road map is better.”

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