Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is issuing conflicting policy decisions to his aides as he is being pressed by the United States to reach a compromise on a final status agreement with Israel.
Sources close to Arafat said he is telling aides to raise the prospect of compromise with Israel, the United States and even some Palestinian circles while the PA chairman renounces their positions and maintains a hardline stand. The result, the sources said, is that aides are being discredited in Palestinian society.
“Arafat doesn’t want to make any decisions,” a senior source said. “So, what he is doing is sending all sorts of conflicting messages through his aides and then renounces them if the reaction is not positive.”
The sources said at least three of Arafat’s aides have been “burned” by the PA chairman. They are PLO Executive Committee secretary Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Ahmed Qurei and PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan. Abbas has been touted as a possible successor to Arafat.
Last month, Arafat sent Abbas and Qurei to Stockholm to conduct final status negotiations with Israel and later both indicated that an agreement could be reached. But Arafat dismissed any report of progress and dismissed any prospect of compromise on such issues as the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
Dahlan was said to have been angered by Arafat’s orders to address last month a Palestinian refugee committee in Gaza. Dahlan told the panel that the refugee problem was not regarded as an obstacle with Israel because most refugees would prefer compensation and resettlement in the West. He said Israel has agreed to allow 10,000 Palestinian refugees a year to enter the Jewish state from Lebanon.
Later, Arafat said Dahalan was not speaking for the PA.
The PA sources said Arafat’s conflicting orders have exacerbated the dispute between aides of the PA chairman. Abbas and Qurei are pressing for the PA to work toward a framework agreement of a final status accord with Israel while PA minister and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat wants the focus to be on Israeli implemention of the interim agreements.
On Monday, Israeli and Palestinians negotiators will meet in Washington to resume talks. The Palestinians will include Dahlan, Erekat and Qurei. who will meet in two separate sessions. One will discuss final status negotiations while the other will deal with interim issues.
“We had agreed to discuss Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state,” Qurei said.
For his part, Erekat said Israel and the Palestinians have reached an understanding that Israel will free all 1,650 Palestinian security prisoners once the sides agree on a final peace treaty. Israeli officials said they envision a mass release once a peace accord is completed.