Published January 14, 2015
Turmoil ignited by a young generation of Palestinians forced Yasser Arafat (search) to backtrack Monday on an attempt to entrench his loyalists in office.
The power struggles enveloping the Palestinian Authority (search) will likely determine who will dominate the Gaza Strip once Israel withdraws.
Under siege from demonstrators and his own government, Arafat on Monday returned his ousted security chief, Abdel Razak Majaide, to power in an apparent attempt to quell violent protests in the Gaza Strip.
Majaide had been sidelined only three days earlier. His reinstatement puts him in charge of security for all Palestinian territories — above Moussa Arafat, the cousin and longtime lieutenant of the Palestinian leader.
Arafat named his cousin Gaza's security chief over the weekend, prompting angry demonstrators to burn Palestinian Authority offices in the Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians see Moussa Arafat as representing the cronyism and corruption of the old leadership.
Intensifying the pressure on Arafat, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) on Monday made a rare appeal to the Palestinian leader to reform the security forces, and said he stands by his decision last week to resign. Arafat has rejected Qureia's resignation, leaving the premier's status in limbo.
Events were triggered last week when young militants in ski masks kidnapped two top Palestinian security officers and four French volunteers in three separate incidents.
The breakdown of authority prompted Qureia and three other senior officers to hand in their resignations, and revealed deep dissatisfaction with corruption in the old guard.
The call for reform from the Palestinian street was quickly taken up by the Cabinet that Arafat appointed 10 months ago, leading to the resignation letter from Qureia.
"It is time to reactivate all our security branches based on the correct principles. It is now time to appoint the right man to the right position," Qureia said Monday.
The appointment of Arafat's cousin deepened the discord between Arafat's generation, which led the Palestinian struggle from exile for decades, and young Palestinians who have lived under Israeli occupation and now accuse the old guard of corruption and monopolizing power.
But dissent went beyond the generational divide and spread to the security forces.
Navy chief Gomma Ghali, an Arafat loyalist, handed in his resignation in protest over Moussa Arafat's appointment. On Friday, the head of intelligence and the head of the preventative security also resigned over the failure of the Palestinian Authority to tackle corruption or initiate reform. However, Arafat has not accepted the resignations.
A wave of kidnappings and demonstrations in the last five days prompted the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to refugees, to pull 20 of its foreign staff out of Gaza and redeploy them in Jerusalem, a U.N. official said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan expressed concern over the instability. He said the United States wanted to see a Cabinet "committed to cracking down on terrorism and establishing a unified security structure to improve the security situation."
Qureia, speaking after a Cabinet meeting, called on both the people of Gaza and the Palestinian leadership to end the violence.
"Enough, enough, enough," he said, adding that only Israel will benefit from the internal conflict.
He announced that a delegation of 11 Cabinet ministers will go to Gaza to mediate between the security, political and militant leaders to try to restore calm.
Many Palestinians saw the return of Majaide as a gesture, rather than a real change.
Despite Quereia's call for order, hundreds of members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades marched in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza, chanting "Yes, to real reform, No to changing faces."
Hani Masri, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, said the conflict in Gaza "is not about reform. It's a fight for power and it came on the backdrop of" Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan.
Once the Israeli army and settlers leave, Masri said, the struggle for supremacy will be between Arafat's loyalists and the supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, a former security chief who has been touring Gaza and calling for reform.
"When Arafat appointed his cousin, he was sending a message that he was ready for war. But today, he backtracked," Masri said, calling it a defeat for the Palestinian leader.
Palestinian and Israeli analysts questioned whether Arafat's effort to defuse the crisis changed the equations of power.
"He wanted to give the impression that he was reacting to all kinds of pressure, but in a way that didn't loosen his grip on power," said Mark Heller, of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.