Palestinians Enjoy First Days of Self-Rule As Arafat Chooses Leadership Council
PALESTINIANS on the West Bank got their first taste of self-rule over the weekend, as scores of Palestinian police took control of security in the West Bank town of Jericho, and the first members of the Palestinian Authority were named by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Noisy parades and celebrations surrounded members of the 700-strong police force Saturday during their first full day of patrolling Jericho, and on Sunday, Palestinians from around the West Bank rode through town in cars festooned with flowers. In the commercial center, Palestinian police tore down a 10-foot-high chain-link fence surrounding the police station they took over from Israel after nearly three decades of occupation.
As Mr. Arafat named 18 of the 24 members to head the self-rule authority, the United States gave $5 million to the PLO to ease its acute cash shortage as it takes control of the Gaza Strip and Jericho; the contribution is part of a US pledge of $500 million over five years in support of the PLO-Israel Declaration of Principles. The US also delivered dozens of trucks and utility vehicles to aid the PLO in maintaining order.
Arafat succeeded in winning over to positions in the authority some important West Bank leaders who had been critical of the deal with Israel signed on May 4.
Faisal Husseini, the West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah group, and top-level negotiator Saeb Erekat appeared on top of the list after having strongly criticized the agreement and boycotted the signing ceremonies in Cairo. The agreement has been criticized vehemently by a wide range of Palestinian groups for allowing Israel to maintain a decisionmaking role in the self-rule areas of Jericho and the Gaza Strip through several ``joint committees.''
The PLO's Fatah wing holds a dominant position among the new leaders. The leftist groups within the PLO have boycotted the authority, and sources say that Arafat needed several days of difficult negotiations to talk his own Fatah leaders inside the territories into joining. A number of prominent independent figures turned down appointments.
Hanan Ashrawi, former spokeswoman of the Palestinian negotiating delegation, declined a post, preferring to devote her time to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights.
Dr. Ashrawi said in a telephone interview that she does not oppose the Palestinian Authority. ``I urge all Palestinians to take part in the construction [of a Palestinian society],'' she said.
TWO weeks ago, Ashrawi sparked controversy by blasting the PLO leadership's handling of the peace negotiations and charged that agreements reached with Israel fell far short of meeting minimal demands of the Palestinians.
But, she says, ``It is too late to annul the terms of the agreement. We have now to work on creating new facts on the ground to achieve our national goals.''
The new Palestinian Authority will include 15 members from the occupied territories and nine from the diaspora, drawn mainly from PLO institutions to represent about 4 million Palestinians dispersed in other Arab countries and around the world.
Another key member of the new authority is Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher who co-authored a book on Israeli-Palestinian peace, ``No Trumpets, No Drums,'' with Israeli Mark Heller.
Both Dr. Nusseibeh and Mr. Husseini come from prominent Jerusalem families. According to PLO officials, Arafat sought to persuade both men that their involvement was crucial to keep alive the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed in 1968.
The only groups outside of the Fatah wing that have joined the authority are the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), led by Yasser Abed Rabo and the tiny Palestinian Struggle Front.
Reservations against the new authority arise from fears that it will be manipulated by Israel or that it will not have enough power to represent and defend Palestinian interests.
According to the Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the list of nominees must be submitted to Israel before the authority assumes its functions. The PLO conveyed 15 names to Israel last Thursday; Israel then allowed hundreds of the Palestinian police force to enter the newly autonomous areas.
Israeli conditions, as well as the high-profile role Israel will retain, initially prompted major Fatah leaders to refuse appointments. But as euphoric celebrations swept Gaza and Jericho welcoming the Palestinian forces and the withdrawal of the Israeli Army, more agreed to join.
The authority's functions are confined to running administrative affairs, ending direct Israeli occupation of part of Jericho and the Gaza Strip for the first time since 1967.
The PLO foreign refugees and mobilization departments will not be merged into the new authority, because the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to conduct foreign affairs or to keep up demands for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees, according to the Declaration of Principles signed with Israel last September in Washington.
The only woman on the authority so far is Intissar al-Wazir, a cofounder of the Fatah movement and wife of the late PLO military leader Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), who was assassinated by Israeli squads in 1988 in Tunis.
Mrs. Wazir's appointment, despite her initial reluctance, is believed to have been seen as necessary by Arafat who is trying to placate the members of Fatah's military wing.
Most of that wing is opposed to the agreement, and even though Wazir is not involved in military activities, Arafat is said to be trying to capitalize on the legacy of her late husband who remains a powerful symbol of Palestinian nationalism in the occupied territories.