RAMALLAH - A bullet hole in the curtain of the television room at Palestinian
opposition figure Nabil Amr's luxurious villa still attests to the shooting last
Wednesday in which he was heavily wounded. Amr survived and is in hospital in
Jordan, but Palestinian politics may be in a terminal crisis.
"They were shooting to kill, this was to be a political murder," says Amr's
eldest son Tarek in a quiet but outraged voice. "It is the most serious incident
so far involving a senior opposition figure."
Earlier cases were mainly confined to intimidation through beatings and shots
fired from afar, says Tarek. Nabil Amr's home was fired upon two years ago as
well. The deputy governor of Nablus was kidnapped for a short while last week.
The violent incidents in the West Bank now seem to be an extension of the
recent unrest in Gaza. The power struggle there in the run-up to the expected
Israeli withdrawal has precipitated a political crisis in Ramallah with the
resignation move of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and
demands for reform of the PA. Yasser Arafat is being asked to relinquish some of
Arafat has offered to transfer effective power over the security services to
Qureia, a key demand of the latter if he is to stay on. This would be done by
appointing an interior minister of Qureia's choice.
Over the weekend violent protests continued in the Gaza strip. Protesters
burnt down a police station and briefly occupied a government building. The
protests seem to be targeted at corruption and cronyism within the Palestinian
In Gaza in particular there have been demands for a restructuring of the
security services. But many Palestinian analysts say rival factions in Yasser
Arafat's ruling Fatah movement are manipulating these complaints for their own
Nabil Amr, member of parliament, is a high-profile critic of Arafat and a
vocal advocate of reform. He quit as minister for parliamentary affairs in
Arafat's cabinet more than two years ago. He owns the newspaper Al Hayat
Al-Yadida, the "new life."
Amr's son Tarek says some people had begun to think that his father was
setting himself up as an alternative to Yasser Arafat. "But that is not true, my
father wants reforms under Arafat."
He is vague on the reforms his father is demanding. "In general he wants the
rule of law to be applied," he says. His brother-in-law Iyad Amr steps in to
say, "Nabil Amr wants the seat of power to be the democratically elected
parliament and not a collection of cronies."
People close to Arafat scoff at such notions. "Nabil Amr and other so-called
opposition figures just want a bigger piece of the cake," says Bassam Abu
Sharif, an advisor to Arafat and an old ally. His house is a lot simpler than
Amr's and his face and body bear the scars of the long struggle he has waged
Abu Sharif has no doubt that Arafat will survive this crisis and come out on
top, but he says he too is urging reforms. In particular he wants to reduce the
influence of the Fatah movement.
"Palestine is not Fatah-land, Arafat should stop satisfying the demands of
Fatah members," he says. He advocates a new cabinet headed by Qureia with
ministers selected on "professional" merit.
But Arafat will stay firmly in control, even of the security services, says
Abu Sharif. "He will of course remain chairman of the National Security
Council." The Council is the final arbiter in security matters and is packed
with Arafat loyalists. Abu Sharif clearly considers the whole crisis a storm in
a teacup. "What crisis?" he asks.
The shooting of Nabil Amr is, he says, either the handiwork of the Israelis
or of some people in Fatah who want to "create chaos."
Jabr Asfour who heads the criminal investigation branch of the police in the
West Bank and is investigating the shooting disagrees.
"This act crossed a red line," he says. "For Palestinians to kill each other
over politics is an outrage." He is worried that this is not the last time such
a thing was attempted. "Unfortunately this is a very tense period and some
people are worried enough about their interests to resort to violence."
The Palestinian Authority is struggling to stay in control of its own people,
says Asfour. This is mainly because of Israeli measures that prevent the police
from travelling between cities or from going out on armed patrols.
"We have lost control over Jenin and Nablus on the West Bank and Rafah in the
Gaza Strip," says Asfour. Even militant groups such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs
Brigades who are affiliated with Fatah and are deeply involved in the internal
struggle cannot communicate effectively with their members in those places, he
says. This is why their members have resorted to violence, says Asfour, who is
close to the Brigades.
People want a "different political leadership because the current leadership
is corrupt and inefficient," he says. "The people are worse off all the time and
this leadership has failed to liberate them from Israeli occupation."
He clarifies quickly, though, that the reformers are not asking for Yasser
Arafat to go. "He is our elected leader, a symbol of the Palestinian people.
Arafat is not the target of the demonstrations."