A lot was said and many theories were put forward to explain the discord between the head of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat and his Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Both the Americans and the Israelis gave this issue bigger dimensions than it deserves, and the media is bursting with talk about the "dispute" or the "tussle", as some Israelis prefer to call it. However, and in order to tackle this delicate issue, one must start by clarifying some basic facts.
First of all, attractive and realistic headings were used to cover the Israeli plan aiming at eliminating President Arafat, whether from the peace process or from the decision-making arena. Both issues are of course closely linked, as controlling decision making powers on the local arena leads to a better and more effective role when it comes to the peace process (i.e., when taking a political decision vis-Ã -vis the settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians).
This explains why the Israeli government spent the past three years making accusations and pressuring the White House to adopt its viewpoint refusing Arafat as negotiator and representative of Palestinians. Israel decided to do away with Arafat (a new strategy) after the collapse of the Camp David talks between Arafat and Barak and when negotiations in Taba were brought to a halt between two highly ranking delegations of Palestinian and Israeli ministers. This decision was taken based on numerous reports submitted by Israeli Prime Ministers (ever since the negotiations started) about Arafat’s rigid positions, his lack of flexibility, his unrealism and his refusal to accept that Jerusalem is the united and eternal capital of the state of Israel. The Israeli government has spent precious time plotting and preparing media campaigns to guarantee the success of this strategy.
Ever since he was elected, Sharon has been repeating that he will never meet with Arafat, who defied him in Beirut and prevented him from entering the city. This defiance cost Sharon a lot: it deprived him of political posts and marginalized him in Israel for 20 years. Thus, the Israeli government started inventing stories about corruption, about Arafat using Palestinian money to buy weapons and his controlling security forces, money and employees, using these claims to make Palestinian reforms a sine qua non. However, "reforms" in the Israeli dictionary means discarding Arafat on all levels simply because he believes strongly in the Palestinian National Agenda endorsed by the Palestinian National Council in 1988 (which is in itself a huge concession towards peace between Israel and the Palestinian state to be established on land occupied in 1967).
This is the reality.
The American Administration more or less yielded to Israeli viewpoints. It started imposing impossible conditions upon Arafat and expressed regrets that he was unable to fulfill them (while giving Sharon the green light to reoccupy the West Bank, to kill, to demolish and to besiege Palestinians). Then the American viewpoints became identical to those of Sharon’s government: the Americans declared that they refuse to deal with Arafat and that they support Israel’s besieging him in his headquarters in Ramallah.
Then started the second phase of the Israeli strategy under the banner "fighting terrorism", a phase which required convincing the US administration that there are some "moderates" in the Palestinian leadership that need support so that they can replace Arafat and be fine partners within Sharon’s vision for peace. According to this vision, the West Bank remains under Israeli control, Palestinian land continues to be confiscated, settlements built, cities transformed into overpopulated cantons and the Jordan valley is kept by Israel. The Israelis and Americans then decided to form a Palestinian government with a head (other than Arafat) and to transfer all presidential prerogatives and authorities to the new Prime Minister. Both sides thought that providing this government with political, financial and security support will turn Arafat into a spiritual father (if he is kept alive). The USA then started urging Europe, the UN and Arab allies to exert pressure upon Arafat to accept this solution, to grant it his support and to help pass it in the legislative council saying this was the key to implement the road map and to bypass Israel’s reticence towards it. Given all this pressure, Arafat yielded. However, he remained assured of the support of his people and of the legitimacy he acquired when they elected him as President, when Fateh elected him as its leader and the PLO elected him as its chief.
But some started daydreaming and acting as if Uncle Sam is the fairy promising them better days, support and a Palestinian state. Washington started "pampering" the Palestinian Minister of Finance, received by the Advisor for National Security and not by his American homologue. It started "pampering" many security officials who would not even obtain 50 votes in any free election in Palestine. All these people drowned in the mirage of power. They started making mistakes and acting with haughtiness towards their people, forgetting that it was the people who called for reforms to serve them and the national cause, and not reforms imposed by Tel Aviv and Washington.
So what is called by Israel and some people in Washington a "dispute" or "discord" between Arafat and Abbas is in fact a discord between Arafat and the Palestinians from one side and the Israeli government from another (supported by some circles in Washington).
The Palestinians want reforms that would put an end to bureaucracy and administrative inertia in ministries so that these ministries can help the people and improve their lives. They want projects that would create jobs and provide them with their daily bread. They want to get rid of the corrupt (long lists exist with their names and misdoings, along with proofs).
As for eliminating Yasser Arafat, it is nothing but a conspiracy against the national stance and the legitimacy of this elected leader, a conspiracy that would enable Sharon to fulfill his dream and impose his colonialist settlement in the area.