Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Arafat and old guard are running out of time

There was a time when it was impossible to escape the sight of his rubbery, stubbled features beaming down from half the walls in town.

Ramallah was Yasser Arafat's capital, the administrative seat of the Palestinian Authority, which came into being 10 years ago on a tide of optimism. Last week there was not a single portrait to be seen.

Yasser Arafat: no political gains

Among his subjects, hope for the future has all but evaporated and Mr Arafat sits in the battered compound in a corner of the city where he has lived for more than three years, afraid to leave in case the Israelis block his return.

At the rusty gates one Palestinian did speak up for his leader. 'The reason there are no posters is that he does not wish to brag,' said Rami Snobr, a young guard. 'He is in the heart of his people with or without pictures.'

The view of Imad Muna, an East Jerusalem bookseller, is more typical of the voices being heard in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 'Arafat should go immediately,' he said. 'This is not a political opinion. This is not an extremist opinion. It's the opinion of the majority of people.'

After a decade of misrule Palestinians seem to have lost faith in their president. Gratitude at his achievement in keeping their cause alive and reluctance to criticise for fear of giving comfort to Israel once shielded him from direct attack but no longer.