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Palestinians Move To Curb Arafat's Powers Over PM

In a debate on the powers of the newly created post of prime minister, the 88-member Palestinian legislative council rejected Mr Arafat's proposal that he, as the authority chairman, should be given the right to approve the prime minister's choice of cabinet.

Last week the council voted overwhelmingly in favour of setting up the new post, under strong pressure from the international community to sideline the 73-year-old Mr Arafat.

Last week's constitutional amendment setting up the post left security matters and peace talks with Israel in the hands of the chairman.

The recent stirrings of democracy in Palestine are a good sign. But the effectiveness of the reforms will be limited until peace talks can be taken out of Arafat's hands. Arafat seems committed to neither peace nor war, opportunistically taking up whichever cause seems to boost his own fortunes. Further (and perhaps more importantly), his reputation is permanently compromised in the minds of most Israelis (and certainly in the minds of the hard-liners who will be the toughest to sell on any two-state solution). He has come to symbolize the duplicity, corruption, and terrorism that Israeli hardliners see as characteristic of the Palestinian position. And while Jimmy Carter thinks the 1996 referendum still gives Arafat legitimacy, a fresh(er) face on the Palestinian side of the table, with a more recent democratic stamp of approval, will be necessary to get any talks moving again. As long as Arafat is the go-to man for the Palestinians, Sharon will be able to dismiss his overtures as superficial. A Palestinian leader with clean(er) hands will be able to reclaim some moral high ground and force the Israelis to take him seriously.


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