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Reforming the Palestinian Authority

Aired May 15, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Reform in Ramallah. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian people, the Israeli prime minister and the American president are all calling for change within the Palestinian Authority. One motto, different motives.


(on camera): Hello and welcome.

Yasser Arafat is a democratically elected leader, but his official term in office ended years ago. And he never reelected to another.

Arafat is a symbol of his people, but to many, a symptom as well, of what's wrong with the Palestinian government. It's an old debate within Palestinian society that's taken on a new dimension because of demands from Israeli Prime Min. Ariel Sharon.

On our program today, questioning authority.

First, though, a look at some of the other stories making headlines.

Unofficial election results in the Netherlands show a resounding defeat for the prime minister's Center Left Coalition. Exit polls show opposition Christian Democrats leading by a wide margin, winning 40 of the 150 seats in Parliament, followed by the movement of Pim Fortuyn, the right-wing candidate who was shot and killed last week.

Fortuyn's List (ph) looks set to win 26 seats. Though Wim Kok's government brought unmatched growth since 1994, it was punished for appearing to ignore public concern about drugs, crime, immigration and welfare abuse.

Early election results in Sierra Leone show most voters there want to keep their president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, in office.

Independent radio reports say President Kabbah and his party appear headed for a landslide victory. Mr. Kabbah is credited with helping to bring the United Nations intervention that ended his country's civil war.

The former rebels, who hacked the limbs off thousands of Sierra Leoneans over the years, are said to be trailing badly in the vote. Final results are expected Friday.

A bomb exploded in a market in Algeria's northeast region, killing several people. The official news agency says the homemade bomb exploded Wednesday at the entrance to the market in the town of Tazmalt, about 180 kilometers east of Algiers.

The bomb went off in the morning, when the weekly market was full. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but such violence is usually blamed on Islamic militants.

The attack came ahead of legislative elections May 30.

In Spain, police arrested two suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA they say plotted a terrorist attack. Authorities report the men had planned to bomb a summit of European and Latin American leaders in Madrid later this week.

Police say a raid of the suspects apartment turned up 200 kilos of explosives and other weapons. They also confiscated cars being prepared for use as car bombs. Seven others suspected ETA collaborators were detained by the authorities.

Most of the long, torturous talks between Israelis and Palestinians really revolve around a handful to topics: land, peace, security.

Now all of the sudden there is a new one: reform. The Israeli Prime Min. Ariel Sharon said this week that there would be no negotiations before Palestinians changed their system of government.

Wednesday, Yasser Arafat said there is change ahead, and there are Palestinians who don't want what either man has in mind.

We begin our look with CNN's Rula Amin.


RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yasser Arafat, under mounting pressure to reform his Authority, promised the Palestinian legislative council that he will.

YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER (through translator): I insist to present a new and comprehensive formula for our national conditions and for our Authority and its various administrations, ministries and security apparatuses, in order to reconstruct on a stronger and more solid ground, in a way that would achieve our national aspirations for freedom and for the independent state of Palestinian.

AMIN: On Tuesday, he signed a bill that guarantees the independence of the judiciary in the Palestinian territories. It has been sitting on his desk for the last two years.

He spoke of changes leading to the rule of law, separation of powers. Arafat also reminded council members of the limitations, like Israeli restrictions that prevented about half of the council members from attending the session. They joined by a video link from Gaza.

"But that won't stop us," Arafat said, and he promised preparations for free elections will start soon.

The last time Palestinians held elections was in 1996, choosing a legislative council and a president. Yasser Arafat won with about 88 percent of the votes. That term expired about three years ago.

"I was hoping to hear of specific measures, not just intentions," says this council member.

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN COUNCIL MEMBER: The Palestinian people need to see immediate effective concrete steps that would translate this statement of intent into seriousness and implementation.

AMIN: The calls are coming from the opposition, from Yasser Arafat's own Fatah faction, from his closest advisers, ministers and security chiefs. And even from those who have been publicly accused of corruption.

JIBRIL RAJOUB, PALESTINIAN SECURITY CHIEF: For our interest, for our people's interest, I think that some drastic change should take place.

AMIN: This Palestinian Authority cabinet minister resigned to advance his call for change.

NABIL AMR, PALESTINIAN COUNCIL MEMBER (through translator): Because all our faults have been exposed, especially during Israel's invasion of Palestinian towns, the security force has evaporated, and the other institutions didn't deliver.

AMIN: It's not only the Palestinians demanding Yasser Arafat change his ways.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I would hope that all the people responsible, Palestinian leaders, understand that reform is in their interest. It's in the people's interest.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MIN.: Israel wishes to become involved in negotiations for peace, and will do so if two conditions are met. One is complete cessation of terrorism, violence and incitement. Two: the Palestinian Authority must undergo basic structural reforms.

AMIN: Some Palestinians think Ariel Sharon is just stalling.

MUHAMMAD HOURANI, PALESTINIAN COUNCIL MEMBER (through translator): Sharon calls for reform only to use the time needed to reduce reform to stay away from the peace table and peace negotiations, but that won't stop us from our pursuit of reform.

AMIN: Different parties seem to be pursuing different agendas.

Take for example the call to restructure the Palestinian security forces. Israel wants to see all the different Palestinian security divisions united under one strong command.

The United States agrees. President George Bush wants his CIA director, George Tenet, to help Palestinians rebuild their security forces.

(on camera): Palestinians too have long wanted a change in the security establishment. Many of them resentful of overly powerful security officers who have used their authority to advance their private interest, whose roles have overlapped each other, and who are recently perceived as having failed to protect Palestinians during Israel's military campaign.

(voice-over): While many Palestinians say they want a force that will protect them against Israel, Israel and the United States want to see a Palestinian force more active at cracking down on Palestinian militants to prevent attacks against Israelis.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: Reform means just creating one security structure that would be subjected to the imposition of the Israeli side, and who will become a collaborating structure with Israel, suppressing its own people.

This is not reform. This is the creation of a dictatorship.

AMIN: Now that Yasser Arafat is promising change, the question is, whose version of reform is he talking about.

Rula Amin, CNN, Ramallah.


MANN: And will the reforms be enough for either side? For anyone?

A conversation about expectations and reality after a break. Stay with us.



MANN (voice-over): Between a rock and a hard place; Yasser Arafat saw his popularity soar among Palestinians after Israel confined him to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, but when he emerged five weeks later, he was besieged again, not by Israeli forces, but by demands for reform from his own people and from abroad.


(on camera): Welcome back.

Yasser Arafat made a string of promises Wednesday, but he gave few details. He vowed to hold elections, for example, but he didn't say when or what kind. He said mistakes were made, but he didn't say what they were or who made them.

A short time ago, we caught up with Denny Ayalon, a former policy adviser to the Israeli Prime Min. Ariel Sharon, and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat. Erakat told us that Arafat's proposals were a good start.


SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I think President Arafat outlined today a comprehensive plan in a very comprehensive speech today, a strategic speech, in which he committed to the -- admitted the mistakes that we have committed. We are not perfect. And undertook to carry out a reform as far as the cabinet, the separation of powers, and above all, the elections.

I think these are internal Palestinian matters, and we will insure that all things will be held in terms of an accountable, transparent system. But we don't want the term reform to be used by Mr. Sharon as a pretext for not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) agreement or for maintaining the Israeli occupation, or for continuing the Israeli settlements and so on, and continuing this insurgence.

We believe, I believe, personally, that the Israelis also need political reforms. I believe that the majority of the Israeli people want peace, and they want to end their occupation, and they want to see a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel. And I hope that the Israelis will deserve the leadership that will deliver them through the path of peace, healing, reconstruction, and not a government that takes them on the path of destruction and war and violence, and counter-violence.

MANN: Let's go to Daniel Ayalon. What, in fact, is P.M. Sharon insisting on when he says that reform has to be a precondition for further progress? And if he is insisting it will be a precondition, doesn't that essentially freeze the status quo for months or perhaps even years while these reforms are being carried out?

DANIEL AYALON, SHARON ADVISER: Well, Jonathan, the Israel is a peace- loving country, peace-seeking country, and we would like very much to settle the struggle with the Palestinians in a political way, in a dignified way, which would bring stability and peace to the region and welfare to all.

But for that you have to have a political partner. We have proven in the past, once we had late-President Sadat or late-King of Jordan Hussein, we made very big concessions, and we reached peace.

The same case with the Palestinians. We can move ahead and move forward only if we have a viable political partner, one who is committed to peace, to security, and not to violence and terror. One who can really want to share with us the future in the region, but not destroy us.

MANN: Forgive me for interrupting. That much is very clear. The government of Israel has said it before. But Israel did not demand constitutional change in Egypt before it made peace. It didn't demand constitutional change in the monarchy in Jordan before it made peace.

It is asking for something very different from the Palestinian Authority and it leaves many people to wonder -- Saeb Erakat among them -- if in fact Israel is demanding the kinds of change that will take years, knowing that that will put off the serious business of making peace until those years are past.

AYALON: Well, there was no need for these demands in the case of Jordan and Egypt since they abided by their word. Once we had a commitment, there was not a single shot over the borders, from Jordan or Egypt.

Here, with the Palestinians, we had numerous numbers of agreements, but they broke every one. They kept terror, incitement and violence, even though they renounced. They were supposed to fight terror. Not only did they not fight terror, but they joined the terror, and Arafat conducted a strategy of terror.

As we speak, we still have terror from Arafat and there is not any step taken to stop it.

MANN: There is talk about reforming the Palestinian security service. Now, clearly the Israelis and the United States would like a security service that cooperates more closely and more efficiently. Is that what Palestinians are talking about.

ERAKAT: Well, I think the question should be to rebuild the Palestinian security forces, because in the last five weeks, as much as in the last 19 months, we have witnessed the destruction of the Palestinian security forces, totally.

And that's no secret. And that's why we are waiting for the Americans and the Europeans to send delegations, in order to begin a damage assessment program and to begin rebuilding the security forces that were destroyed by the Israeli incursion...


MANN: Would you rebuild them essentially the way they were -- multiple security forces that would essentially be replaced by newer ones? Or do they have to change as well?

ERAKAT: Well, Jonathan, these security forces must be under the rule of Palestinian law. In every country, you have a police force, you have intelligence force, you have national security. And in the agreement we signed with Israel, there are six branches.

I don't think the problem is the names of the security forces. The reform we're talking about is a reform that would put each single one of us, as Palestinians, including President Arafat, including any minister, under the rule of law, with full accountability, with full transparency.

I'm not saying we're perfect. We're not an independent state yet. My movement from Jericho to Ramallah to make this interview, Jonathan, has to be with permission from the Israelis. While the majority of the people...


MANN: Well, let's ask the Israelis about the security forces. I'm going to jump over to Daniel Ayalon. Is the kind of thing that we just heard about appropriate to Israeli eyes, or do the security forces have to be more than rebuilt? Do they have to be changed in important ways?

AYALON: Yes, there has to be fundamental change, and there has to be also a fundamental change in the society. The end of incitement. Really, the end of the strategy of terror.

And it's not just rhetoric. It's deeds on the ground. So the rule of law, of course, unified security forces, of course, a social difference, a political difference, where there's separation of powers. But this is indeed an internal Palestinian issue.

What is concerning us, is that we will be with a partner who has once and far all relinquished the strategy of terror and also the ambitions to destroy Israeli, because what we see now, that rhetoric aside, the action is aimed against us.

Now, Saeb said that they have no security forces to speak of. I would mention to you that in Gaza, we didn't operate in Gaza. So the security operation there is intact, and from Gaza we still have attacks every day.

As we speak now, there is mortar shelling, and an Israeli was murdered only two days ago. The Palestinian security forces not only are not taking steps to prevent terror, but they are the ones who are committing the terror.

So we need a fundamental change, and Arafat, who has overseen this apparatus of terror and corruption, cannot be the one correcting it -- like you do not let a murderer correct the jail system.

MANN: Well, let's go to Saeb Erakat on that, because it would seem that the Israelis make no bones about it -- they are happy to see reform within the Authority, but their fundamental problem is with Yasser Arafat. Is Yasser Arafat going to go away? And if he doesn't, do you think the Israelis are going to be happy with any reform you come up with?

ERAKAT: See, that's the point about Mr. Sharon. I think Danny Ayalon will not so no, that the fact that Sharon refused to shake Arafat's hand in 1998. Sharon refused, and put it against the Oslo accords.

So the question is today, you can't line up this broken record of accusations telling, as if Palestinian tanks are surrounding Israeli towns and villages, as if Palestinians are sieging and putting under siege and turning Israeli towns into big prisons with buffer zones.

Danny, wake up, please. The fact is, we're under your occupation. We're under your subjugation. And the message I heard from Mr. Sharon yesterday, or from the Likud party, your party, is that you're telling me you're going to have to be under my occupation, under my subjugation, and maybe I will allow you to govern yourself in garbage collection and water and so on.

I'm sick and tired of your occupation. I am your equal. I'm going to be your partner. And Gaza was never intended to be a land brokered 4,000 years ago. I'm telling you, I have recognized the state of Israel, and it's none of your business to elect my leaders.

President Arafat was elected by the Palestinian people to be their president. As much as it is none of my business to see who is elected in Israel.


MANN: Let's give the last word to Daniel Ayalon. Let's give the last word to him.

ERAKAT: ... and we said -- we respect the democratic choice of Israelis, and we extend our arms to them, to resume the negotiations immediately, and all we hear from them is that they don't want our leader, they don't want our system, they want to maintain our land, because they claim it was theirs 4,000 years ago.

And what is it? We recognize Israel. I ask Danny to say if he recognizes the concept of a Palestinian state. He's declining to answer.

MANN: Let's let him answer now. One last word to Daniel Ayalon.

AYALON: Well, I would say again, recognition aside, but action speaks louder than words, and the apparatus of terror that we have found in our Defensive Shield operation just goes beyond any of our worst expectations.

In Gaza, as I said, we have attacks every day. The fact that we have some kind of a better security environment is not because of Arafat or the Palestinians preventing terror. It's because we, reluctantly, but after a long period of suffering of Israeli casualties, we decided to do an action and defend ourselves.

And right now, the terror apparatus is still intact, and this is the problem. And as I mentioned before, everything was on the table for them. Not only that they opted not to take a political solution, but they started this terror and violence and incitement.

Only when there is a fundamental change there we can move ahead.

MANN: Daniel Ayalon and Saeb Erakat, thank you so much for talking with us.


MANN: Another break now, and then shifting expectations, the view from Washington, when we come back.



MANN (voice-over): Most people are still guessing about exactly what Yasser Arafat is now planning. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Wednesday that Arafat told him he plans to hold elections within the next few months.

At the White House, they are apparently still waiting to hear.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECT.: Yasser Arafat's words in his speech were positive, but what's most important to President Bush is to see action, more than words, and so the president will wait to see whether or not Yasser Arafat and others in the Palestinian Authority actually take action that lead to a better life for the Palestinian people, and actions that lead to a region where they can live in more stability and more security.


(on camera): Welcome back.

President Bush publicly joined the call for reform in the Authority last week after a meeting with Ariel Sharon.

If Israel makes it a new precondition for progress, it will have moved the goalpost, with the cooperation of the referee.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King joins us now to talk about that.

John, what are they saying at the White House?

JOHN KING CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a key distinction, Jonathan. The White House says yes, President Bush agrees with P.M. Sharon, that there must be major structural political reforms in the Palestinian Authority.

Where the White House disagrees with the Israeli leader is that Mr. Sharon says reforms first, push Arafat aside, then negotiations.

What President Bush says is no, if you want to deal with any problems in the short-term -- and there are, as your previous discussion noted, many -- you must deal with Mr. Arafat now. But at the same time, let's put on a separate track, a simultaneous track, the issue of Palestinian reform.

The president wants a constitution adopted. He wants a post similar, if not in name, to prime minister, so that Mr. Arafat would become more of a symbolic president, someone else would take over the day to day running of the Palestinian Authority.

But the key distinction from the White House standpoint is, do all of that, and in the short-term recognize Mr. Arafat is the leader, if you want to negotiate a cease-fire, if you want to work on the security forces, if you want to get Israel and the Palestinians hopefully, somewhere down the road, talking, for now you must deal with Mr. Arafat, even as you plan -- and in this White House they hope -- for some post-Arafat Palestinian government.

MANN: It's interesting what you say, because it's hard to be an opponent of reform in a general way. It's hard to stand against good government or honest accounting or more openness or more responsiveness to voters. All of those things are worthy everywhere that governments operate.

A question we haven't had a chance to ask anyone else is, how they really bear on the peace process? Is there any sense in the White House that they would actually materially contribute to making it easier to find some kind of agreement between Israelis and pals? Or are they essentially worthy goals, but marginal and a sideshow to the main event?

KING: It's a tough question, but remember, when the Camp David accords collapsed, it was because Mr. Arafat, in the end, refused to sign.

What this White House believes is that you must create the will for peace among the Palestinian people as well as the Palestinian Authority. So there has been a political effort here at the White House.

They have brought in Palestinian pollsters. They have brought in Palestinian moderates. Before the intifada, there was evidence that corruption and inefficiency in the Palestinian Authority was a growing issue among the Palestinian people.

In this White House, they are trying to create, indigenously through the Palestinian people, an also through asking Saudi Arabia, the major financial supporter, and other Arab nations, to put pressure on Mr. Arafat to explain where is the money.

If you want to be a state, act like a state, is a key line of this White House. They're hoping to create internal political pressure on Mr. Arafat and others to perform, to improve the schools, to improve the roads, to improve economic development.

And what this president says to Israel, we are told, is you are giving Mr. Arafat an easy excuse. He says, I was trying to build schools, I was trying to build roads, Israel destroyed them.

MANN: The United States is materially involved in all of this, and especially so in one specific regard, because the president has ordered his CIA director to the Middle East to help with the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces.

We just heard a debate about what that reconstruction should be about. Should it be establishing a more professional force, operating strictly under the rule of law? Or should it, from the Israeli perspective, be a force that really has to be much tougher on terrorism?

What kind of force is the United States planning to build? And how hands-on will Washington be?

KING: On this point, the United States is in almost complete agreement with Israel. George Tenet, we are told, the CIA director, he was supposed to go to the Middle East this week. He has delayed that trip. There is even some consideration apparently of bringing some other Arab leaders here to discuss this issue with them before Mr. Tenet goes to the region.

The United States believes the six or seven Palestinian forces must be under one unified command. The United States believes there is considerable inefficiency and bureaucracy and even in some cases corruption that encourages, or at least allows, terrorism in the Palestinian security forces.

So we are told Mr. Tenet's message will be quite tough, that the Palestinians must unify the command, must root out bureaucracy and corruption in those security forces. What he's looking for is help, because he understands, even though George Tenet himself is very well- respected by both parties, he does understand there will be sensitivity in the region, among the Palestinian people, if this is seen as the United States, viewed as very closely aligned with Israel, imposing its views.

So, again, the United States is looking for help, especially from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, in this case, in convincing Mr. Arafat he must reform those security forces.

MANN: Our senior White House correspondent, John King, thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

MANN: One last thing before we go, about the ongoing conflict. The World Bank has put a price tag on Israel's military campaign in the West Bank last month. It says Israel did more than $360 million in damage, and suggests it will take more than a year to repair.

The World Bank says the cost would be eight times higher if lost income and other damage was taken into account.

That's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. There's more news ahead.





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