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Intifada Turns on Arafat

Israel has already given up on him as a potential peacemaker. So has President Bush.

Now, 10 years after becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat last weekend saw how his own people are willing to turn against him.

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The uprising that broke out against Mr. Arafat in the Gaza Strip on Saturday may yet subside, but it's left a clear message that Palestinians want a leader who can end the chaos and poverty left in their midst after nearly three years of violent intifada - mainly suicide bombings - against Israel.

While Arafat's role as the core symbol of Palestinian liberation remains strong, his actions in compromising toward peace and running a clean and effective government have been decidedly weak.

In fact, like many of Israel's right-wing political theologues, Arafat remains a stumbling block to a peace settlement. Without such a peace, Mr. Bush's efforts to create a democratic Middle East that doesn't export terrorism probably won't be fulfilled.

Arafat's political vulnerability became clear in the course of Israeli debate over a unilateral withdrawal of forces and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, which is home to 1.3 million Palestinians. The weekend uprising was seen as a powerplay between Palestinian factions for eventual control of an Israeli-free Gaza.

(Coincidentally, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan also made him politically vulnerable; his right-wing coalition in the Knesset eroded, and he's negotiating this week with left-wing Labor to form a new government.)

Arafat's mistake was to go over the head of his prime minister in overhauling the Palestinian Authority's security structure, and to appoint a relative as the head of Gaza's security forces. The prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, submitted his resignation, saying the situation in Gaza "is a level of chaos we've never seen before."

Arafat already lost one prime minister for not relinquishing most of his authority over security forces, and unless he truly does so, it's unlikely the Palestinian Authority will ever really disarm the militants that strike Israeli civilians.

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Despite the US-led war against Saddam Hussein, the real battle against terrorism in the Middle East is the steady push for government reforms in every capital that will result in elected leaders who truly seek peace in the region.