Hollow promise, or step to reform?
It's not a new idea. Many have been pushing for Yasser Arafat to become a ceremonial president, allowing a prime minister to rule the Palestinian Authority.
Last week, Arafat agreed to appoint a prime minister.
It's a good step, but will it become any sort of journey toward reform?
When it comes to Arafat, the man of hollow promises, that's anyone's guess.
He made the announcement, but didn't say who would get the position - or when. Nor did he say how much power he would agree to relinguish. Those pushing for reform want Arafat to hold the figurehead position, while a prime minister becomes the head of government.
We fear that Arafat might prefer the reverse - or appoint someone who would serve only as his mouthpiece.
Arafat's history as head of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority are not confidence builders in this regard. His policy has been to play one lieutenant against another to assure that no one could challenge his authority.
His method of rule has been to reward those personally loyal to him, not necessarily those most competent, with office. And he only has acted against corruption when forced to do so by angry donor states.
This record would indicate a man not eager to let the reins of power slip from his hands.
Of course, he could act to silence all the doubters. If he's serious about appointing a prime minister, Arafat's next step is to direct the Palestinian Legislative Council to draft a constitution outlining exactly what the prime minister's powers are - and making sure that authority is strong enough so that someone may carry out the job.
As it now stands, according to published drafts, the ultimate authority would lie with Arafat who would "oversee through the prime minister the executive authority and handle general direction of the armed forces."
That's not good enough.
By now the Palestinian people need to realize that Arafat is a stumbling block for them.
They need a new leader, a leader who will have power and be willing to take risks to bring them to peace.
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Friday, February 21, 2003