PLO Postpones Formation of First Autonomy Council : Mideast: Missed deadline in transition to self-rule stems from disputes among Palestinian leaders.


Signaling growing disarray in the leadership as Palestinian autonomy looms, the Palestine Liberation Organization indicated Sunday that it will not meet its deadline this week for naming a new governing council for Jericho and the Gaza Strip.

After three days of troubled leadership meetings at the PLO's headquarters-in-exile, PLO officials said the naming of the 24-member Palestinian Authority would be postponed until PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat returns from a trip to South Africa.

Arafat is not scheduled to return until Wednesday, the day the PLO had initially pledged to announce the new governing body. Now, there will be no announcement until at least Thursday or Friday, indicating that the PLO will miss its first important deadline in the transition to Palestinian self-rule.

PLO sources said the delay stems from disputes within the PLO Executive Committee over who will name the council--the Executive Committee or Arafat himself--and reluctance among some key PLO leaders to serve on the governing council.

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Maazen, one of the architects of the secret negotiations in Oslo that produced the peace agreement between the PLO and Israel, has reportedly said he will not serve on the new council. Ahmed Suleiman Khoury (Abu Alaa), who had been slated for the economic portfolio and who led the Oslo talks, has also not given a clear commitment.

Moreover, key Palestinian leaders from the occupied territories have clashed with Arafat in recent weeks over the right of Palestinian leaders inside the territories to have a voice in who is appointed and to have significant representation on the governing council.

Faisal Husseini, the PLO's leader in the West Bank, flew to Tunis shortly before last week's signing ceremony between Israel and the PLO and got into what PLO sources said was a shouting match with Arafat over insider representation on the council.

The dispute dramatically underscores not only growing unhappiness with Arafat's dictatorial leadership style but a split between Palestinians who have lived under years of Israeli occupation in the territories and the political leaders who will be returning to Palestinian lands after decades in exile.

Sources close to the PLO Executive Committee, which met throughout the weekend before Arafat left Sunday for South Africa, said it was generally agreed that 60% of the membership of the 24-member committee would come from within the occupied territories and 40% from PLO leaders outside the territories. Arafat would head the council.

Some PLO leaders have been unwilling to accept appointments on the council because they are unhappy with the agreement negotiated in Cairo, under which Palestinians will have only limited self-rule, and only in the areas of Gaza and Jericho, at least until it is expanded with later negotiations.

Combined with restiveness among Palestinian insiders, Arafat appears to have his hands full pulling together a government in time for its scheduled move into Jericho within the next two weeks.

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