In his first speech to parliament since the Israeli military siege on his West Bank headquarters, Arafat accepted blame for many of the problems that have plagued the Palestinian leadership.
“I tell you if there was a mistake, I take full responsibility, ” Arafat said.
The Palestinian leader called for a review of all administrative, ministerial and security forces as well as a new round of elections. His speech offered few details about the timeline for reform nor did it mention a new election for the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which he won by a large margin in 1996.
Despite his reform pledge, Arafat directed much of the blame for the current crisis on Israel’s use of force against the Palestinian people and its six-week military offensive that ended last week. He said the Palestinians would never abandon their struggle for an independent state and that peace remains the “strategic” goal.
Arafat’s speech came one day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his own parliament that there would be no peace unless the Palestinians restructured what he called a “corrupt terror regime.” Sharon has long held that he would not negotiate with Arafat unless the Palestinian Authority makes changes and takes steps to stop violence against Israelis.
Arafat reiterated his opposition to attacks on Israeli civilians saying, “… such operations do not serve our goals. On the contrary it creates the hatred within the international community which was behind the creation of Israel.”
U.S. reaction to Arafat’s address mirrored the response from others in the international community — praising Arafat’s sentiments but calling for quick action on his proposed changes.
“Yasser Arafat’s words are positive,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “What’s important, and the president will wait and see, is whether there will be any action.”
Arafat’s speech fell on the emotionally charged “Naqba Day” which marks the 1948 loss of what Palestinians consider their homeland when Israel declared independence.