Arafat planned his ambush of Abu Mazen meticulously. On Monday he convened about 40 members of the Palestinian leadership at the mukataa. There were members of the PLO Executive Committee, the Fatah Central Committee and other organizations, but all of the participants were from the inner circle of Arafat’s supporters.

Even Dr. Saeb Erekat, who was ignominiously expelled from the Abu Mazen cabinet, was invited to take part in the discussion. Officially the meeting was to discuss policy on the talks with Israel with a view to the upcoming meeting between Abu Mazen and Sharon, but the real business was to submit Abu Mazen to a hazing.

Arafat laid the ambush well. He asked Abu Mazen to submit a report on the achievements of his government in the talks, especially on the sensitive issues of release of the security prisoners and lifting the siege on the Palestinian cities. Abu Mazen delivered a brief report, concluding with the words “Israel has not implemented any of its commitments.” Even before he had finished speaking, the signal for the attack was given. “Resign from the government,” shouted the former interior minister Hani el-Hassan. “Why were you not ashamed to allow two ministers to meet the Israeli justice minister in occupied Jerusalem?” cried Sahar Habash, one of Arafat’s closest supporters. “Even foreign ministers from Europe avoid holding meetings there.”

From another corner someone shouted: “The prisoners are rotting in jail and your ministers are visiting luxury hotels,” and Abu Mazen was even accused of being an emissary of the Americans and the Zionists.

Throughout the tirade Arafat was silent. He had supplied his cohorts with the ammunition in prior conversations, and had no need to try hard. The feeling among the Palestinian public and the leadership is that Abu Mazen has not succeeded in changing the daily conditions in the territories, nor in bringing political gains. The Palestinians have paid the price but Israel is not giving anything in return.

Abu Mazen tried to keep cool. He said nothing. When the shouting got louder he walked out of the mukataa, went home and wrote two letters. In one of them he wrote: “If the Fatah Central Committee does not like the policy of my government, I wish to resign from that committee.”

The second letter, which was addressed to Arafat, was caustic. “I will thank His Excellency the President to instruct us on precisely what policy he desires, so that we in the government can consider whether we can fulfill the task, and if not I will resign from my office.”

Abu Mazen seized the opportunity not only to settle accounts with his domestic opponents, but also with his friends in Israel and the United States, who had wanted his appointment so much. His threat to resign from the Central Committee was aimed at his internal enemies, but the threat to resign from the post of prime minister was a message to the United States and Israel.

Arafat did not accept the resignation. The rais, who has gone from crisis to crisis all his life, knows how to exploit them to promote his aims, but he also knew this time that he should not go too far. Hazing yes, resignation – not yet. And in the meantime, when the prisoners are released, he will try to take credit for it. Abu Mazen also knew he must not resign from the prime minister’s office because that would mean the end of the cease-fire, the collapse of the road map and a return to terrorism, suicide bombings and war.

The threat to resign is Abu Mazen’s most effective weapon. He is the champion of quitters. He used this threat on the eve of his appointment as prime minister, when Arafat was against admitting Dahlan to the cabinet. This time Abu Mazen’s aides stressed that he will not resign because of Arafat. “If Israel causes him to fail, and he is unable to continue with his policy, he will resign. So long as there is hope, he will continue.”

Commenting on Abu Mazen’s threat to resign, Fares Kadoura, a Fatah leader in Ramallah, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a close associate of Marwan Barghouti, said, “I know people who submitted their resignations, but I don’t know one Fatah member who carried out the threat.”

By threatening to resign from the Central Committee, Abu Mazen was trying to obtain its support. His aides say he was also in a sense shaking off the committee, which was elected in 1988 and has long outlived its usefulness. “The members of the Fatah Central Committee are from the generation of Tunis, and for them the reality in the territories is still foreign. The only representative from the territories, Dr. Zakariya Alaga from Gaza, is a rubber stamp for Arafat. If elections for the committee were held today, nobody would vote for these people,” an aide said.

“I am the prime minister of all the Palestinian people and its mission, and my loyalty is to the Palestinian people, not to the Central Committee,” Abu Mazen himself has already said.

With his threat to resign, Abu Mazen was sending a message to the Israelis. “If you don’t help me, if you don’t release more prisoners, if you don’t ease conditions at the roadblocks – you will find yourselves stuck with Arafat back again,” and he backed up his threat by cancelling the meeting with Sharon which was to have taken place on Wednesday. “It’s not the right time,” he told the Israelis.

This article appeared on the July 11th issue of Yediot Aharonot