Facebook Twitter



An architect of the Palestinians' self-rule agreement with Israel has apparently quit Yasser Arafat's provisional government out of frustration with Arafat's leadership, attacked by many Palestinians as highly rigid and by some as fully autocratic.

The official, Ahmed Qurai, declined to confirm that he had given up his economics and trade portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, the Arafat-led council that runs the four-month-old Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.There was "nothing official as yet," said Qurai, widely known as Abu Ala, and an Arafat spokesman also said no formal resignation had been submitted.

But Qurai, who secretly negotiated self-rule terms with Israel last year on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization, did not attend the council's weekly meeting in Gaza Saturday for a second Saturday in a row. Some Palestinian officials said he apparently had decided to leave in protest. If so, he would be the first person carrying the rank of minister to resign from the council, a self-styled cabinet that has 19 members.

Even if he is ultimately persuaded to stay on, his unhappiness reflects a broader disaffection among many Palestinians with Arafat's performance since he returned to Gaza in July to run day-to-day affairs.

The complaints are that Arafat refuses to delegate authority, that he is more concerned with ceremony than substance, that he has not yet won the confidence of international donors looking for greater fiscal accountability from the Palestinian Authority. In an interview with Israel Radio's Arabic service this week, Qurai complained that private investors were being scared away by a lack of clear budgets and direction.

Part of Qurai's displeasure may stem from personal pique, after being brushed aside by Arafat at a meeting of donor countries in Paris last week that was supposed to have freed $160 million in badly needed aid for the self-rule authority.

That much-anticipated meeting was suddenly called off as it got under way, deepening frustrations not only for Palestinians but also for countries that had pledged $2.4 billion for projects in Gaza and Jericho over five years. Instead, relatively little money has been disbursed because of disagreements over accounting procedures and other matters. In the meantime, the PLO stumbles along in a cash crisis, unable to cover running expenses like police salaries.

In Paris, the problem was a dispute over payments for social programs in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians consider the capital of their hoped-for state.

They were important projects, the Palestinians said. But the Israelis demanded that they be eliminated from the financial package on the table, arguing that to permit them would circumvent an agreement with the PLO to keep Jerusalem off the agenda for now.