The best thing to come out of Israel's invasion of the West Bank is a massive reduction in terrorist attacks. The next best thing is a push to reform the Palestinian Authority. Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, has been calling Yasser Arafat "irrelevant" since last year. But now, Arab, U.S. and European diplomats have also grown exasperated at Mr. Arafat's tinpot dictatorship, and have cited reform as a precondition for reconstruction aid. Ordinary Palestinians have had enough too. They saw Mr. Arafat as a hero when the Israelis had him holed up in Ramallah. But the crowds he's attracted on his recent inspection tour have been meagre. It's dawned on Palestinians just how badly Mr. Arafat screwed things up: In 2000, he turned down an offer of a Palestinian state and launched a terrorist war. As a result, the Palestinian economy has crumbled and Israel elected a leader who says it will be a decade before the next Camp David.
Mr. Sharon is in a good spot: He has the goods on Mr. Arafat. Documents seized in Ramallah show Mr. Arafat and his cronies financed the wave of terrorist attacks that necessitated the March 29 invasion. They also show Mr. Arafat exercised smothering control over every aspect of the Palestinian Authority budget. Tiny three-figure payments to terrorists had to be personally approved by the PA Chairman. According to Israeli estimates, his men siphoned off about $80-million per month in aid dollars to pay Fatah salaries.
In light of all this, it is ridiculous to speak of creating a Palestinian nation at present. A would-be nation should contain, at the very least, politically independent civic institutions, leaders committed to the rule of law, and a unified police command. But even before the Israeli invasion, the Palestinian Authority had degenerated into a loose confederacy of terrorist and quasi-terrorist organizations -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah -- competing to shake cash out of Mr. Arafat.
Mr. Arafat knows which way the wind is blowing. Speaking yesterday, the Palestinian Authority Chairman said: "It is the time for change and reform." He called "for a review of all [the PA's] administrative, ministerial and security forces" and proposed "the speedy preparation of elections." But it is hard to take any of this seriously. Mr. Arafat has been running the Palestinian Authority as an unelected dictator since 1999, when required elections were never held. He has divided up his security forces into a dozen different bickering agencies in order to play his rivals off against one another. On Monday, Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister Hassan Asfour was savagely beaten with a club by five Palestinian thugs outside his home in Ramallah. The reason, many analysts believe, is because Mr. Asfour is allied with Mohammed Dahlan, the head of the Palestinian security apparatus in Gaza and a possible leadership threat to Mr. Arafat. If Mr. Arafat calls his "election," it is hard to imagine Mr. Dahlan or any other opposition candidate getting through the campaign alive.
Mr. Sharon isn't fooled. Speaking Tuesday, he described the Palestinian Authority as a "rotten and dictatorial regime of terror," and said he would not enter into any peace talks with the Palestinians until the PA had undergone "basic structural reforms in all areas." One of those "areas" is obviously leadership. Mr. Arafat is corrupt, incompetent and has yet to demonstrate rather than voice any commitment to peaceful co-existence with Israel. His removal is a necessary, if not sufficient, precondition for the creation of a Palestinian state.
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