Waiting for Arafat

June 20, 1994

Yasser Arafat delayed his return to Jericho because (A) he dreads the transition from guerrilla leader to governor of a poor little state; (B) he needs money to spend which donors are slow to provide; (C) his PLO is rent by dissension and rivalries with resident Palestinians; (D) he wants a public relations spectacular, unobtainable while world television is focused on the soccer World Cup; (E) Jericho, a popular resort in winter, is unbearably hot in July and August.

Observers are trying to choose one or all of the above to explain the delays of the PLO chairman in taking over the land he has worked a lifetime to rule. But Palestinian autonomy is stumbling forward in his absence. Under-funded uniformed police are trying to catch thieves and keep the peace without means to do it. Plainclothes secret policemen are filtering in and scaring everyone. Mr. Arafat is trying to mediate a power struggle between Gen. Nasr Youssef, to whom he gave command of the $$ 9,000-strong Palestinian police, and Col. Jibril Rajoub, whom he put in charge of his own and the state's security.

Israel kept its side of its bargain, releasing about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, roughly half, when it said it would. This included Hamas members opposed to the PLO-Israel agreement provided they signed a pledge renouncing terrorism and respecting the law. Some did, and were freed in Gaza; some didn't, and weren't.

Calling the initial Palestine of Gaza and Jericho a banana republic is easy; Jericho exports bananas. But to make the autonomy a success, tremendous investment is needed. International donors have pledged $2.2 billion to an aid fund. The World Bank reported that Saudi Arabia just contributed $30 million to a $128 million emergency road and power station project. But PLO officials say they have received only $18 million of the immediate $42 million that was pledged by donors to set up the Palestinian National Authority, which will govern until elections.

Meanwhile, Syria reportedly is dragging its feet on reaching a peace agreement with Israel, causing Secretary of State Warren Christopher to reconsider his travel plans, which were aimed at sewing up that agreement. The Vatican is pressing ahead with its recognition of Israel. Israeli officials have said this will give the Vatican a voice on the regime for religious shrines in Jerusalem when Israel starts to negotiate final status with Palestine.

During Israel-PLO negotiations, it was said that Mr. Arafat should put up or shut up. Now what's needed is for him to show up.

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