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Monday, November 29, 1999

PA furious over intellectuals' manifesto

Prematurely released declaration accuses authority of corruption, oppression

By Amira Hass, Ha'aretz Palestinian Affairs Correspondent

The Palestinian Authority reacted harshly yesterday to a manifesto signed by dozens of Palestinian intellectuals and members of the PA's Legislative Council, which attacks the Palestinian leadership for selling the Palestinian homeland under the auspices of the Oslo Accords, in exchange for the enrichment of a small minority. By yesterday evening five of the signatories had been arrested and two placed under house arrest. Cabinet Secretary Ahmed Abd al-Rahman accused the signatories of straying from the national path.

The initiators of the manifesto were members of the Legislative Council - some of them members of the Fatah Movement - although various lecturers at Nablus University and a number of physicians also asked to sign on. In the words of one signatory, the group had intended to gather many more signatures and to submit the manifesto to the council presidium and cabinet before publicizing it. But, he explained, one of the signatories rushed to publicize the manifesto before the additional signatures could be gathered.

Among other things, the manifesto says that "after Oslo, the Palestinian leadership promised that the agreements with Israel would bring us a state with Jerusalem as its capital, and that it would bring uprooted refugees back to the homeland, dismantle the settlements, free prisoners and turn our country into Singapore ... Six years after Oslo, our land is still being stolen from us, the settlements are spreading...the Palestinian prisons lock up our sons...our nation is split into two parts - the minority of which rules and steals, while the majority complains and seeks someone to rescue it. The PA's policy is one of threats, corruption, subjection and exploitation of the Palestinian people.

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

Nine held as Arafat orders new crackdown on Palestinian critics

By Phil Reeves in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT, 30 November 1999

Yasser Arafat ordered the arrest of two more Palestinian intellectuals yesterday as he pressed ahead with one of his harshest crackdowns on high-profile internal critics.

In the last two days, nine people have been detained by Palestinian security forces, or placed under house arrest, after their names appeared on a document accusing the Palestinian Authority of corruption, and levelling responsibility directly at its president, Mr Arafat.

Analysts said yesterday that the document comprised the most public attack ever made against Mr Arafat by mainstream and respected Palestinian figures. "This is significant because of the kind of people arrested, who are credible Palestinian nationalist personalities, and because this is the most explicit criticism levelled at the president himself," said Ghassam Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, which conducts opinion polls.

Twenty people signed the document, including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council - who enjoy immunity from arrest - several physicians and political scientists, and two political figures who are seen as heroes of the nationalist cause - Ahmad Qatamesh and Bassam al-Shak'a. Mr Qatamesh became a "cause célèbre" when he was held in prison by the Israelis for six years without charge. On Sunday, he was arrested by the Palestinian security police.

The severity of Mr Arafat's reaction is a measure of his autocratic leadership style and personal intolerance to criticism, but also reflects the sensitivity of the issues raised against him. Surveys show that Palestinians overwhelmingly see the authority as corrupt and that unease about the failure of the six-year peace process to produce results is deepening.

The document called on Palestinians to "ring the bells of danger against the corrupt, unjust and manipulative policies" of the authority. "The homeland is being sold," it said. "We must stand together to stop this corruption."

Mr Arafat's advisers sought to justify the crackdown by describing the document as "incitement", an offence that carries a penalty of up to three years imprisonment. One, Nabil Amr, said it was the "first direct reference to the president and this is something that is unacceptable".

But his words did nothing to diminish the fury of Palestinian human rights organisations. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, which described the petition as "the beginning of a civil revolution", said the authority "will try everything to prevent any kind of pluralism and democracy".

Sources said that Mr Arafat's officials would now try to pressure the signatories to withdraw their names. If they refuse, the Palestinian leader will have to decide whether to try to persuade the legislature to overturn the immunity enjoyed by the parliamentarians who signed. As this requires a two-thirds majority vote, Mr Arafat will have to be careful; it is a battle he may lose.

Palestinians Censure Dissidents

By Laura King
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Dec. 1, 1999; 6:57 p.m. EST

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Yasser Arafat fended off his sharpest challenge yet on the issue of corruption when Palestinian lawmakers voted Wednesday to censure dissidents who for the first time directly blamed the Palestinian leader for waste, mismanagement and fraud in his government.

Hours later, in a bizarre twist, one of the dissident lawmakers was shot and wounded as he returned home from the parliamentary session. He claimed the attack was punishment for signing the anti-corruption manifesto, but offered no concrete proof of that.

Earlier, the Palestinian legislature argued for nearly four hours behind closed doors over what action to take against the nine lawmakers, who broke a long-standing taboo against personal attacks on Arafat by circulating an anti-corruption manifesto that harshly criticized the 70-year-old leader.

In the end, lawmakers condemned the document and its signatories - but stopped short of lifting their parliamentary immunity, which would have left them vulnerable to arrest and prosecution. Arafat had already ordered the detentions of 11 intellectuals who also signed the document - all non-lawmakers without protection against legal sanctions.

While defusing the immediate crisis, the vote was unlikely to quell public anger over the long-festering issue of corruption.

In recent years, Palestinian lawmakers have repeatedly tried to impose greater accountability on government officials and ministries. But following Wednesday's vote, top Arafat associates issued a blunt warning that lawmakers could face punishment over offending statements in the future.

"This problem is finished for now, but there will be a committee and a procedure for dealing with this kind of matter," parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia told reporters after lawmakers voted 33-8, with three abstentions, to denounce the anti-corruption manifesto.

"We condemn the way this document was written, and everything contained in it," the parliamentary statement said. It called the manifesto "an invitation to internal turmoil and revolt" and pointedly expressed support for Arafat, hailing him as the Palestinians' elected head and "the leader of the Palestinian revolution."

The affair clearly made many lawmakers deeply uneasy. Half of the 88-member body - including some who had either been implicated in past corruption or crusaded against it - stayed away from the session, as did Arafat himself. Under parliamentary rules, even such a low turnout constitutes a quorum unless someone objects.

Those present for the closed session, held in the same Gaza City conference center where President Clinton addressed the Palestinian parliament a year ago, described a tense atmosphere, especially when some of the manifesto signatories rose to defend their actions.

After the vote, the six signatories who had attended the session swiftly left, ducking questions. Signer Rawia Shawa, from the northern West Bank town of Nablus, was asked as she hurried into the parking lot if she was disappointed.

"A little," she called over her shoulder. "But it's over. I better not say more."

The lawmaker wounded in Wednesday night's shooting, 55-year-old Moawya al-Masri, said he was approached by three masked men as he returned to his home in Nablus. He said he was shot in the leg as they scuffled.

Speaking from his hospital bed, al-Masri said he believed the attack was staged in retaliation for his signing of the manifesto because he knew of no other reason anyone would want to harm him. A top aide to Arafat, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, expressed concern over the incident and said Arafat had demanded the attackers be swiftly brought to justice.

Although the manifesto was not considered a serious threat to Arafat's overall authority, it underscored his vulnerability on the corruption issue. Critics say hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian Authority income are unaccounted for annually, and Palestinian public-opinion polls regularly indicate the government is widely perceived as corrupt.

That resentment is especially strong in the economically struggling Gaza Strip, where many people believe corruption stifles the kind of business activity that could help lift them out of poverty.

"There's corruption everywhere!" said 39-year-old Naim Abdel Qader, a Palestinian father of 10 who runs a tiny textile factory in the Shati refugee camp. He said kickbacks to officials and a government monopoly on basic supplies drove up the cost of running a small business like his.

Still, many did not personally fault Arafat, who is seen as retaining the spartan lifestyle of his guerrilla days.

University student Adel Khalifa said he blamed lawmakers, not Arafat, for failing to act against corruption.

"There's no doubt that it grows every day, but those people have been sleeping for the last four years. Now they wake up?" he said. "I'm not a big fan of Arafat, but he's the one who's worked the hardest to achieve the goals of the Palestinian people."

Arafat's backers urged Palestinians to concentrate on difficulties at hand - mainly the tough negotiations with Israel over the terms of their future statehood. In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Arafat's Fatah faction organized a rally in his support that drew 4,000 people.

Marchers at the rally chanted: "Unity, unity, national unity!"

(c) Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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