Arafat Remains In Control, Despite Defiance From Fatah, PA Forces

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that there is no significant challenge to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's authority, despite the fact that on the ground his orders are apparently not always followed.

Arafat told reporters Friday he was doing his best to bring a halt to the shooting attacks taking place from PA-controlled areas. However, leaders of his own Fatah organization have said they will not heed that call and that their battle against Israel will continue.

Members of Arafat's security forces have also been caught participating in the shooting of Israeli soldiers and civilians. Thursday, two PA officers were shot dead, reportedly while preparing to attack an Israeli community.

The head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, Dr. Mahdi F. Abdul Hadi, said Friday these incidents did not indicate there was rebellion in Arafat's ranks.

There was a general agreement that Arafat "is not in full control of the occupied territories," Hadi said.

Although Arafat's Fatah faction and its Tanzim military wing were loyal to Arafat, Hadi said, at the same time they knew full well that "the name of the game is in the streets."

The current impasse is leading to a situation of "Lebanonization," Hadi said.

This refers to the conflict moving from a so-called "popular uprising" into a guerrilla war, similar to the one Israel fought against Hizballah and other terrorist organizations in Lebanon.

"It's a similar situation," Hadi said. There is a "commander in field" who is "young" and "nameless." That "faceless field commander is gaining the respect of the community, as well as leading the confrontation."

However, this is not seen as a "challenge" to Arafat's authority. Arafat cannot know exactly what is happening in each place, he said.

Moreover, when Arafat said Friday that shooting must stop in areas under his control, he did not say fighting must stop in areas under Israeli army control. Thus the battle can continue.

Israeli army sources said as much on Friday. They believe that Arafat's specific command, to stop the shooting from PA controlled areas, simply moves the conflict into those under Israeli control.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gal Luft of the Israeli army also does not believe Arafat's regime is being threatened by any kind of internal challenge.

"I don't see anyone who could take over from Arafat," said Luft, a leading specialist on the Palestinian security forces. "His security chiefs all watch each other."

The PA has 12 different security apparatuses, Luft explained. At least four or five of them are involved in protecting the regime, while others are involved in intelligence gathering.

There is nothing like a general staff and each branch has a separate command in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They do not submit to each other or cooperate with each other, but instead answer directly to Arafat, Luft said.

Arafat arbitrates between them, and built the services that way in order to have "direct, complete control" over them. "The only person who can give orders is Arafat."

According to Luft, some of his security chiefs have complained that Arafat is speaking to the different forces with a different tongue - ordering some to cease fire, while telling others to do the opposite.

While for now, Arafat's regime seems secure, Luft said, he does not know how the PA will handle the transition when Arafat goes.

There will be a struggle for succession, and whoever wants to succeed Arafat will need the "strong support" of the security services.