|RATING ARAFAT'S RULE|
May 28, 1997
Experts analyze criticisms by fellow Palestinians that PLO leader Yasser Arafat is an autocrat who has abused human rights, condoned corruption, and ignored parliamentary procedure. A background report is followed by a panel discussion lead by Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: President Arafat has not responded publicly to the most recent round of criticism against him and the Palestinian Authority. But with us now to discuss these issues is Khalil Foutah, the deputy chief representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Washington. Joining him is Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Chicago. He's also the author of a new book Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. Welcome, both of you.
Mr. Khalidi, how would you assess Yasser Arafat's governing style and approach?
RASHID KHALIDI, University of Chicago: Well, I think the problem has been in the failure to establish a rule of law. This is not a situation where we have a sovereign state, and it's not a situation where some of the established ground rules that you would expect are there.
So it's easy--it's too easy to fault the Palestinian Authority. But even given the difficulties that they face, I think there has been a failure to establish a basic law which is the equivalent of a constitution, a failure to establish, for example, the division of powers between the executive and the legislature, and a failure to establish the independence of the judiciary. And these are all very, very important things because the beginning of this experiment is going to determine in some measure how it ends.
MARGARET WARNER: And whose fault is that?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think a lot of the blame falls on the executive, on the government, and in particular on Yasser Arafat. He has been used to operating in a situation without very many restraints, without very many constraints in the context of the PLO. Here we have a legislative council which should have a much greater measure of authority than he's allowed it to have.
And here we have a situation also of abuses where it is not clear what the redress of the citizen is. It is not clear, for example, how the courts are to control violations by the security forces, how allegations of corruption are to be dealt with. In all of these cases you need a basic law--you need--which is to say a constitution--you need a rule of law. And I think in large measure the style--the managing style with which Arafat and his colleagues came from Tunis is to blame.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Foutah, how would you--do you think that's a fair criticism of the governing style?
KHALIL FOUTAH, Palestine Liberation Organization: I agree, you know, to what Rashid said, but let me explain something, you know. We have to remember where is Yasser Arafat coming from; where he came from. He went a long way from a revolutionary leader to a head of state, almost--it's not a state yet, but it is a state in the making. You could call it that way. And you have also to look at the constraints surrounding Arafat and imposed on him by the Israelis, themselves, and forming that council and the authority of that council and the jurisdiction of that council is limited.
RASHID KHALIDI: That's right.
KHALIL FOUTAH: This is also, you know, things that you have to consider. I agree that it is basically important to have the rule of law. And we have a basic law--the council did the job of writing that law--and the final reading is already done of that basic law.
But also, Arafat, he is not only the head of the Palestinian National Authority; he is also the chairman of the PLO, which is the higher frame work of the Palestinian National Movement, which is the highest authority in the Palestinian National Movement, so he has really to consult with the League of Comity of the Palestinian National Council, you know, to approve that basic law, and it's ready for a movement. So I think the first meeting of the PNC is going to be--
MARGARET WARNER: Palestinian National Council.
KHALIL FOUTAH: Palestinian National Council--is going--that basic law will be approved and will be the basic law for the Palestinian National Authority. And we have to remember this authority represents the Palestinians inside Palestine and those back in Gaza strip. We have the wider Palestinian communities and exiles who are affiliated with the PLO and part of the PLO.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What do you make of that, Mr. Khalidi? Some of the points--he said that Arafat is operating under certain strictures.
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, it's certainly true that the Palestinian Authority only has jurisdiction over the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and it is true also that the higher authority to which Arafat is responsible is the PLO, but there have been accusations by the members of the legislative council that there has been a great deal of foot dragging in this and that, moreover, a lot of laws that they have passed have simply not come into effect because the executive has refused to give them effect.
So it is true that we think of the West Bank and the Gaza strip as where all the Palestinian people are. In fact, the majority of Palestinians live outside of Palestine, outside the West Bank, the Gaza strip, and Israel, itself.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Foutah, let's go back to something you both referred to which Arafat, himself, and his roots. Talk a little bit more about that. Do you think he's fundamentally a democrat or an autocrat? Do you think he's having a hard time making the transition from, as you said, being the leader of a revolutionary movement to being head of a government people expect to be democrat?
KHALIL FOUTAH: Yes. That's not only Arafat. The whole movement, it's in a transformation period right now--transformation state. And we have to learn how to be a state, you know, and this is a process. It's not going to happen by a decision from Arafat--President Arafat or any other leader of the movement. It's a process that we have to live through. We have to make some mistakes. We have to learn from our mistakes, and we have to develop a democratic system that should achieve the objective of the Palestinian people.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, though, that Yasser Arafat sees that as a process he has to go through? Do you think he's trying to make this evolution, or do you think he doesn't see the need for it?
KHALIL FOUTAH: No. I think Yasser Arafat is on the head of that process, and he has--he has to go through it, and accept democracy, and, you know, you're talking about President Arafat, who succeeded in having a coalition of Palestinian National movement with different ideologies, and he got all these groups under the umbrella of the PLO. And they're all part of the Palestinian National Council, so he is--he wants a democracy, but this democracy, it's a process that's going to take some time. This country, it took 200 years to develop this democracy. So give us the time, and we have the human resources go through this process.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Khalidi, do you see evidence that Yasser Arafat has this personal commitment?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, he may have the personal commitment, but part of the problem is institutional. The structures of the Palestinian Authority, as they've been set up by agreements, which were largely dictated to the Palestinians by Israel and by the United States, is very top heavy as far as security is concerned. Most of the money that's going to this authority, in particular from the United States, is going to support the services of security which are not so much a Palestinian demand as they were a demand of the Israeli side.
So whatever his inclinations are--and I have my doubts as to whether many decades of operating in exile in a situation where war, pressures, and other things tended to diminish the ability of anybody to operate in a democratic fashion--is going to be easily forgotten. And I tend to think that we have a situation now where we have a very powerful executive and no real strong tradition either of judicial independence or of legislative control, for example, over expenditures.
In the PLO, one of the complaints has always been that the members of the executive committee and the top leaders were able to spend money pretty much without any kind of oversight. The PNC would meet every year, every two years, maybe every three years, depending on conditions and circumstances, and very rarely was able to exercise any oversight over expenditures. That kind of tradition has been imported into the Palestinian Authority and the legislative process which in a normal democracy should determine the spending of money. I mean, that's the basis of the power of our Congress .
It's the basis of the power of parliament in England. That is simply not there. So we have some serious problems relating to the conditions that were imposed on the Palestinian Authority by Israel. And we have traditions imported, as I say, from the decades of exile.
MARGARET WARNER: That seems to be a point you're both making, has to do with sort of oversight of different rival power centers, which is sort of the heart of democracy, whether it's control over security forces, or independent judicial review, or independent legislature. Do you--
RASHID KHALIDI: Or the power of the purse, which is one of the major things. Who decides who spends what and on what?
MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Foutah, what would it take to get there?
KHALIL FOUTAH: Okay. What it take--we have to establish our own democratic institutions, and we are in this process already, but, you know, as I said, it's going to take us some time, and you know, when I look at what the legislative council is doing right now, they just approved yesterday the budget for that PNA, Palestinian National Authority.
And, you know, this budget went through a debate and, you know, they pointed out all the mismanagement in the last fiscal year, and this is a plus. This is a plus really. I give it to the Palestinian National Authority and to the Palestinian National Council, the representatives of the Palestinian people--Palestine. And it is--it is very good sign. This is the way to start, to present your budget, to get the critique about it, to try to manage the mismanagement, and you know, do better next year.
MARGARET WARNER: Yet, it seems, from what we've read, that the government, the Palestinian Authority didn't want that very debate public, which is what led to the whole problem with Daoud Kuttab, the journalist who was arrested.
KHALIL FOUTAH: This is not really true 100 percent, what you say. You know, they were debating in the council to have that debate for the budget open or not. And this is the right of the council to decide on this issue. For example, here in the United States, we have a lot of committees in the Congress. They decide their debates should be closed, you know, for the members only, and the same thing we should have the right to decide and who decides, the council, itself, with the Palestinian administration; they should, you know, debate the issues, and a decision on those issues. What happened in the case of Daoud Kuttab, it was--the debate was going on.
A decision wasn't taken, and Mr. Kuttab, after they--they try to jam his broadcasting, he smuggled the tapes to the cities, and they broadcast those tapes. In a way, he did something also that was not right. I understand where he came from. He wanted to protect the freedom of information; he wanted the people to watch that debate, but also it has to be decided by the council.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Khalidi, want to weigh in on this point?
RASHID KHALIDI: I actually do, yes. The council made no decision banning a broadcast, and, in fact, many members of the council protested vigorously when Daoud Kuttab was arrested because, in fact, the council has every interest in seeing its deliberations widely broadcast. I think that this is a disgraceful episode, and I think the fact that no charges were ever brought is an indication that there's no substance to what Khalil is saying.
In fact, the council had no interest in seeing these broadcasts jammed. Nobody ever admitted to jamming them; nobody ever admitted to arresting him. Nobody ever charged him. And I think it's the kind of episode which scares people. I have to say, on the other hand, what is encouraging is to see firstly that he was released; secondly, that whoever arrested him, whoever gave orders for arresting him, was too ashamed to try and pursue this; and thirdly, that there was vigorous protest by the institutions of civil society in Palestine.
I mean, this is a situation where people are living still with 92 percent of the West Bank under occupation; in a situation where they're still--the economy is still controlled by Israel; where almost none of the interim agreements have been fully implemented; and we're years away from a final peace settlement with this bill. And so under situations of great difficulty you've seen people in the assembly, in the press, in human rights organizations willing to stand up to their own national authority, to their own national leadership on the issue of freedom of speech. And I think that is one of the most encouraging outcomes of this whole episode.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Khalidi and Mr. Foutah, thanks both very much.
KHALIL FOUTAH: Thank you.
RASHID KHALIDI: Thank you.