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August 2, 2004
The Slow-Burn Civil War

Palestinian forces fired on Fatah reformers in the West Bank yesterday, injuring no one but sending the message that any challenge to Yasser Arafat's grip on power would result in a bloody civil war. Meanwhile, Arafat's Palestinian critics grew more bold in calling for an end to corruption:

Gunmen claiming allegiance to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat fired warning shots outside a meeting hall in the West Bank city of Nablus where members of his Fatah movement gathered Sunday to discuss internal reforms, witnesses said.

No one was injured when about 15 masked members of the Al Awda Brigade fired their weapons to express displeasure over what they said was a move against the Palestinian leader. About 60 Fatah activists from rural areas outside Nablus were meeting to discuss the recent political turmoil in the Palestinian Authority and draft a protest statement to Arafat, said one of the activists, Ghassan Douglas, in a telephone interview.

He said the armed men, who act as a private militia for Arafat, believed that the activists were plotting against him. "The purpose of the meeting was misunderstood," Douglas said.

When the boss needs a private security force to protect him from his personal armed wing of the movement, civil tensions have reached their peak. Fatah is, after all, Arafat's own creation and his power base within the PLO. The Los Angeles Times' report makes it clear that Arafat's power hangs by a thread, or these days, a threat. It's also clear that the threat has less power than before as Arafat's critics feel increasingly emboldened to cast the Palestinian Authority in the harshest terms:

Meanwhile, Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security chief who has become Arafat's biggest political rival in the Gaza Strip, was quoted in a Kuwaiti newspaper as saying that Arafat was "sitting on the bodies of Palestinians and on the ruins."

Dahlan said that "tens of thousands of Palestinians" would protest in the streets unless "real reforms" were put into place by Aug. 10, according to an Israeli news account of his comments to the Al Watan newspaper.

Official corruption was sapping Palestinian aspirations, he said. "The concept which has thus far run the Palestinian cause has become useless."

The intifada, having failed, now turns inward on Arafat. The passions he stirred up and the hopes he raised need a new outlet, since the Israelis have increasingly made their defenses more effective against the suicide bombings that the Palestinian power brokers encouraged. Those who have lost sons to the madness of suicide attacks have little left -- no sons, no house, and no house in Tel Aviv overlooking the Mediterranean. The bill will come due soon for Arafat, and he knows it, and another call to intifada will not save him this time.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 2, 2004 5:19 AM

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