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Abu Mazen, Yasir Arafat And The Road Map

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Although we, along with most others, are following with great interest, the apparent running battle between Abu Mazen and Yasir Arafat over the make-up of the former’s list of ministers, we suggest some red lights of caution.

For one thing, it is not at all clear that all of the hullabaloo is not just some charade to burnish Mazen’s image as a freestanding, de facto successor to Arafat and thus satisfy President Bush’s insistence on regime change in the Palestinian Authority.

For another, and perhaps more important, whether the controversy is for real or is being feigned, its focus is extraordinarily significant. The public perception is that the issue of reining in terrorist groups is at the heart of the dispute. As is being widely reported, the main dispute is over the appointment of Mohamed Dahlan, a former security chief in Gaza. Mazen wants to give Dahlan a key security post, while Arafat wants to keep a confidant, Hani al-Hassan, in the job. The new security chief would have to supervise a crackdown on Palestinian militants and Hassan has done nothing during his tenure to inspire confidence in his ability or desire to confront Palestinian terror.

In any event, this focus of the controversy would strongly suggest that a successful Mazen would be prepared to seriously move against Palestinian terrorist groups.

But it must be kept clearly in mind that although Arafat can fire Mazen, Mazen does not need Arafat’s formal approval for his becoming prime minister or for his list in order to take office. It is the Palestinian parliament which must give those approvals. And that is the rub. Mazen may be jockeying with Arafat because he knows he cannot get majority support in the Palestinian parliament unless Arafat gives the signal. So it is reasonable to assume that Mazen is prepared to make some backroom concessions to Arafat to get this to happen. And it will be the same with any prime minister, should Mazen not make it.

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