Arafat urges overhaul of Palestinian government
RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Under pressure from Israel and from inside his own Fatah movement, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Wednesday called for a complete overhaul of the Palestinian Authority he has ruled with an iron fist.
However, while he said "errors" needed to be corrected and elections held, he announced no concrete steps and set no timetable.
"I would like to call on you to re-evaluate all our administrative, ministerial and security institutions after we have seen errors here and there, errors that cannot be hidden from public opinion," Arafat said.
In addition, Arafat called again for the end of attacks on civilians.
"We have announced in the past, and we reiterate in our announcement today, our rejection of all kinds of operations that target Israeli civilians as well as what our Palestinian civilians are subjected to, like what happened in Jenin," said Arafat, referring to the center of the refugee camp that was heavily damaged during April's Israeli military campaign.
"Palestinian and Arab public opinion have now become convinced that these operations will not serve our interests and goals and yet they antagonize large segments of the international community," he said.
Israel, U.S. call for action, not words
In Jerusalem, Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, expressed disappointment in the Arafat speech.
"One would have expected him to come out strongly against terror activities, against suicide and terror bombings, but he did not make that statement," said Gissin. "He alluded to the fact that there are perhaps terrorist activities that he is against, but he did not come out as leader of the Palestinian people and say, 'We've got to stop it.'"
In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer praised the speech but said President Bush wants to see action.
"Yasser Arafat's words were positive. What is important and what the president will await to see is whether there is any action," Fleischer said. "The president is looking for action that will lead to a better life for the Palestinian people and will enhance the prospects for an enduring peace."
Pressure from within
Arafat's quickly arranged speech came one day after members of his Fatah movement said he needed to make reforms that would result in him giving up some power. They said Arafat must continue to be the head of the authority and the symbol of Palestinian aspirations.
Also Tuesday, Sharon said there could be no resumption of peace talks until the Palestinian Authority underwent extensive reform. (Full story)
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said concrete steps are needed immediately. She said reformers inside the Palestinian Authority have been calling for reforms "for years."
"We need to see accountability for those whose work was exposed as abuse of position, misuse of public funds. We need to see structural reform in the executive authority," Ashrawi said. "We need to see elimination of many existing cabinet posts. We need to see restructuring, a work plan, a real independence of the judiciary, a real separation of power and a time plan for elections."
Arafat met Tuesday night with the Fatah central committee. He has come under criticism from inside the Palestinian territories and from Arab nations for allowing 13 gunmen inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem -- people Israel called "senior terrorists" -- to be exiled.
The Fatah leaders called for a law guaranteeing the equal rights of all Palestinian citizens and a separation of powers, calling for the head of the Palestinian Authority to honor the decision of the Palestinian legislature and an independent court system.
Arafat signed a law Tuesday establishing the independence of the court system. The bill had been sitting on his desk untouched for more than a year.
Arafat also said the Palestinian leadership should be prepared for elections, but did not say when those elections would be held.
"We should be prepared for elections and carry out whatever is possible to implement," he said. "I don't want (Chief Palestinian Negotiator) Saeb Erakat to tell me tomorrow, 'I want elections' -- give me some time Saeb, let me have some time to prepare for that!" Arafat quipped.
After the speech, Erakat said, "We need between three to six months. I am not going to specify the periods now because we have an international committee actually involving the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and Norway who work with us in the local government elections. I will convene this committee as soon as possible."
Arafat said the elections would cover all of the institutions that make up the Palestinian leadership.
'We will never give up the option of peace'
While condemning the United Nations' decision to halt its fact-finding mission to the Jenin refugee camp, Arafat saluted President Bush for calling for the creation of an independent Palestinian state before the U.N. General Assembly.
"He was the first U.S. president to say such a statement before the general assembly," Arafat said. This week, Israel's Likud party reaffirmed its adamant opposition to a Palestinian state, despite Sharon's condemnation of the vote. (Full story)
"Our demand, our goal, and our dream is the genuine freedom and full independence in the state of Palestine with Jerusalem being its capital, no matter who likes it and no matter who accepts or rejects it," Arafat said, adding "whoever doesn't like it can drink the water of the Dead Sea."
Arafat took full responsibility in the face of criticism against the Palestinian Authority.
"We had some criticism from here or from there, each having their own points of view in order to put an end to the siege and to pull out the Israeli occupation forces ... but I would like to say here that I am fully responsible," Arafat said.
The goal and the dream of peace are close at hand, Arafat said, despite the "suffocating siege and ongoing oppression."
"We will never give up the option of peace between us and the Israelis, because peace is a joint interest for our Palestinian people and the Israeli people as well," he said.
WORLD TOP STORIES:
|Back to the top|