JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has urged the United States and other nations to appoint an interim Palestinian government that would be in office for a year and carry out sweeping reforms, a senior adviser confirmed Thursday.
Sharon proposed that the new government be established even against the Palestinians' wishes, the Yediot Ahronot daily reported Thursday. "The free world must force this government on the Palestinians," the daily quoted him as saying.
The prime minister's foreign policy adviser, Danny Ayalon, confirmed that Sharon brought up the idea of an interim Palestinian government in recent talks with foreign leaders, including senior U.S. officials.
Asked whether Sharon wants to see an interim government established over the objections of Yasser Arafat, Ayalon said: "It [the Palestinian Authority] certainly has to be forced out, and it doesn't look like they are going out voluntarily."
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Sharon's attitude was racist and patronizing, and that his demands for Palestinian reform were a pretext for avoiding peace talks. "Palestinian reform is not the business of Sharon," she said.
In a meeting with President Bush at the White House last week, Sharon proposed that Arafat be sidelined and given a symbolic position devoid of authority. Bush rebuffed Sharon at the time, saying Israel would have to find a way to keep working with Arafat, since he is the Palestinians' elected leader.
However, the Bush administration and the European Union have begun pushing for democratic reforms in the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority. For the past eight years, Arafat has ruled Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in autocratic fashion, with few democratic trappings.
Responding to growing pressure from abroad and at home, Arafat told the Palestinian parliament Wednesday that he was ready to carry out some reforms and hold elections. However, the speech was largely devoid of specifics.
His critics said they feared Arafat's promises would remain just that, since all power is concentrated in Arafat's hands and he has resisted change in the past.
"Yasser Arafat loves only Yasser Arafat, and is looking for personal benefits," said Hassan Khreisheh, a legislator from Arafat's Fatah movement.
Fatah legislators have called for a Cabinet reshuffle and proposed that a prime minister be put in charge of day-to-day operations of the Palestinian Authority.
Ayalon, the Sharon adviser, said reform efforts were pointless as long as Arafat remained in his position. "We cannot let the existing regime, which is so corrupt and engaged in terror, be in charge of the reform," Ayalon said.
Sharon is proposing to "bring people with an honest record who may be efficient" in overseeing the required changes, the adviser said. Sharon has said he would not go ahead with peace talks unless the reforms have been carried out.
Yediot Ahronot said that Sharon raised the idea of appointing a Palestinian interim government in a phone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac several days ago.
"His [Arafat's] status must be ceremonial," Yediot quoted Sharon as telling Chirac; the newspaper said it had been read a transcript of the conversation.
"I know that this is not easy thing," Sharon continued, according to the newspaper. "I initiated the idea, but we cannot be involved in the implementation. This needs to be done by the United States, Europe and maybe Saudi Arabia, if the Saudis stop aiding terrorists. The government will be appointed for one year, like in Afghanistan. The free world must force this government on the Palestinians."