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March 15, 1991 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-03-15

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The goal of Israel and the United States —
finding an alternative leader for the Palestinians
— may be easier said than done.


Foreign Correspondent


assir Arafat is in the
Bush administration
dog house for his sup-
port of Saddam Hussein, but
finding an alternative leader
for the PLO may be easier
said than done. While Mr.
Arafat is detested in most of
the Arab world and is now a
liability to the Palestinian
cause in the West, he re-
mains the undisputed leader
of Palestinians, both inside
and outside the territories.
Within the PLO, which is
now practically synonymous
with Yassir Arafat, three
veteran leaders might be
considered contenders for
succession, though none has
the charisma, the legitimacy
or the breadth of support
that Arafat commands:

• Farouk Kaddoumi, head
of the PLO's political bureau
and its "foreign minister."
He opposed Arafat's political
concessions that won an offi-
cial dialogue with the U.S.
in 1988 and is regarded as
extremely radical. Formerly
pro-Syrian, he has now swit-
ched his allegiance to Iraq;
• Khaled el-Hassen, head
of the PLO's information
division and a member of the
PLO's central committee. He
is close to Mr. Arafat and
supports his diplomatic
campaign. It is thought that
he might win backing from
the Saudis and Kuwaitis;
• Abu Mazen (Mahmoud
Abbas), head of the PLO's
international department
and a member of the PLO's
elite 15-man executive
committee, which is effec-
tively the "cabinet" of the
PLO. He is the PLO's link to
Moscow and is thought to be
favored by Egypt.
If Mr. Arafat disappears
from the scene, there will be
a vacuum and, perhaps, a
further schism within the
PLO. It is also likely that

there will be intense com-
petition among Arab states
to crown a new PLO leader
who will be sympathetic to
their particular political in-
clination — if, indeed, suffi-
cient consensus can be found
among the Palestinians for
such an appointment.
In the meantime, Mr.
Arafat, the master of sur-
vival, remains firmly in
charge and, in the absence of
an unpredictable and radical
development, he is likely to

Arafat has painted
himself into a
corner from which
it will be very
difficult to escape.
While a major
liability, he
remains the leader.

occupy the driving seat for
the foreseeable future,
regardless of what President
Bush and Secretary of State
Baker might think.
According to a senior polit-
ical source in Jerusalem last
week, Mr. Arafat is working
obsessively is to restore the
lost status of the PLO and to
reconstruct its position in
both the Arab world and the
West as the "sole legitimate
representative of the Pales-
tinian people."
PLO officials are concern-
ed that serious attempts will
be made to bypass the PLO
and create an alternative
leadership which can repre-
sent the Palestinians.
One such potential can-
didate is King Hussein of
Jordan, whose kingdom has
a large Palestinian majority
and whose ambiguous stand
on the Gulf crisis has earned
him some points among the
It also earned him such
displeasure in Washington
that the kingdom was
omitted from Mr. Baker's

victory swing through the
region, but there are sugges-
tions that the path back to
respectability may be
facilitated if he proves ac-
commodating over the Pa-
lestinian issue.
The other possible source
of alternative leadership
may come from senior Pales-
tinians within the occupied
territories who have provid-
ed the guidance and inspira-
tion for the 40-month-old in-
tifada — if they can be per-
suaded to take the con-
siderable personal risks that
such a role would entail.
According to the source,
Mr. Arafat's top priority now
is not to ensure the well-
being of Palestinians in
Kuwait, in the territories or
in the refugee camps of Jor-
dan and Lebanon, but to
rehabilitate the PLO.
At the same time, the
source believes that Mr.
Arafat, who is now at his
headquarters in Tunis, had
little choice: "He is still
taking orders from Baghdad
and he knows even now that
if he makes a statement
against Iraq he is likely to be
killed —either by Saddam
Hussein or by the Palestin-
ians themselves."
Whatever his past sins,
Mr. Arafat may eventually
be offered political rehabili-
tation in the Arab world be-
cause of the prestige that Pa-
lestinian patronage conveys
and because Arab leaders
fear Palestinian vengeance.
Nevertheless, the PLO is
likely to remain strapped for
cash. Before the August 2
invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was
the largest single source of
cash for the PLO, while
Kuwait led the Gulf states in
contributing generously to
the PLO's coffers. All that
has stopped and is unlikely
to resume.
Instead, the Gulf states,
which contribute to educa-
tional, cultural, religious
and health institutions in

the occupied territories, are
likely to find a more direct
means of assisting the Pales-
tinians or, more dangerously
for the PLO, using the
Islamic fundamentalist
Hamas movement as a con-
duit for their largesse.
The effect can already be
seen inside the PLO, which
has drastically reduced its
staff and cut back on its
publications, killing off some
and reducing the size of
According to the Israeli
source, the Palestinians are
feeling the pinch not only
because the Gulf cash has
dried up but also because
remittances from Palestin-
ian workers in Iraq and
Kuwait to their families in
the occupied territories have
stopped, along with the
"Palestinian Tax" which
was imposed on Palestinian
workers there.
The PLO still has some $4
billion in investments and in
Western banks, but this
money is not being used
primarily to assist the Pales-
tinians in the territories,
whose "intifada allowances"
— regular cash grants for
those who have suffered as a
result of the Palestinian
uprising — have been slash-
ed by one-third across the

Instead, the PLO is
understood to be using its
capital to shore up interna-
tional support among organ-
izations outside the region,
particularly in the Third
World, in order to retain
their backing for the PLO.
The PLO leader is
calculating, probably cor-
rectly, that his Palestinian
constituency will remain
loyal, whatever the conse-
quences, but that non-
Palestinian support is less
Analysts believe Mr.
Arafat has painted himself
into a corner from which it
will be very difficult to
escape. He recognizes that at
a certain point he must
return to the political arena
if he is to achieve any gains
for the Palestinian people
beyond a continuation of the
sterile rhetoric.
That, however, will mean
cutting a deal with the
Americans — and that, in
turn, will almost certainly
involve reaffirming his
earlier renunciation of ter-
rorism and recognition of
"For Arafat, that has
become a very high price to
pay," said the Israeli source,
"and I'm not sure that he is
either willing or able to pay
that price."



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