We need action not vision, says Arafat

Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority went on the

counteroffensive on Wednesday, announcing a timetable for elections and reforms and urging US President George Bush to demonstrate “action not vision” on the Middle East crisis.

Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator and minister for local affairs, unveiled the Palestinian Authority’s plans at a news conference in the West Bank town of Jericho two days after Bush called for Arafat’s ousting.

Arafat has rejected US interference in his political future, and Erakat announced on Wednesday that elections for a new Palestinian president and legislature would be held between January 10 and 20.

Erakat said local elections would be conducted in March, the first to be held under the Palestinian Authority since it was created in 1994 under the Oslo peace accords.

The Palestinian Authority was also working on a series of reforms, notably in the judiciary, finance ministry and security services, that would be ready in the coming months, Erakat said.

The announced reforms, coming 17 days after a cabinet reshuffle, were a response to criticisms that Arafat’s government was corrupt and inefficient and unable or unwilling to curb a wave of attacks on Israeli citizens.

But Erakat denied that they were prompted by Bush’s call for “a new and different Palestinian leadership ... not compromised by terror” as a precondition for establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We have been working on the reforms for months,” he said, adding the process was delayed by Israel’s re-occupation of much of the West Bank.

The government’s “100 days” plan was dated June 23,

two days before Bush’s speech.

The security services, spread out over a dozen agencies, have come under particular critcism.

US CIA chief George Tenet, who held talks with Arafat in Ramallah earlier this month, suggested paring

down to three agencies.

The Palestinian plan announced on Wednesday would attach the preventive security services, police and civil defence to the ministry of interior, which would itself be restructured and modernised.

Erakat said the Israeli military operations could hamper efforts to mount the first elections since 1996, when Arafat garnered 88% of the presidential vote and his Fatah party took 66 of the 88 seats in parliament.

“We call upon the international community to help us in preparing for the elections,” he said.

“Elections cannot be carried out with tanks on every street, every corner of Palestinian towns and villages.”

The Palestinians also had a go at Bush, whom they accuse of adopting a distinct pro-Israeli bias in his Middle East strategy outlined on Monday.

Erakat called on the G8 summit of industrial powers meeting in Canada “to try to convince President Bush that what Palestinians and Israelis need is action not vision” to resolve the Middle East crisis.

“Vision constitutes no policy,” he said.

Erakat said that even if Bush and his own cabinet were to install themselves as the Palestinian government in Ramallah it would make no difference in the efforts to end the 21-month-old conflict with the Israelis.

“The world and its leaders and President Bush should not take short cuts. That is, they should not put the blame on the Palestinian side,” Erakat said, his voice rising.

“What is needed is an end to the Israeli occupation,” he said, adding that Bush’s call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and an end to the settlements on Palestinian soil “required mechanisms for

implementation”. - Sapa-AFP

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