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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Jan. 22, 1996 V4, #11
All the News the Big Guys Missed

President Yasir Arafat

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The longtime Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, was elected president of the Palestinian Autonomy Authority on Saturday. Palestinians and other supporters have been calling Arafat "Mr. President" for years. Now, it is official. Under the latest agreement with Israel, he will be known as president of the Executive Authority of the Palestinian Interim Self Governing Authority, which also includes the new Palestinian Council and a cabinet Arafat will appoint.

Actually, the English version of the agreement provided by the Israeli government uses the Arabic word "ra'ees," which is usually translated as president. Israel appears to still be reluctant to use the word "president," but Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has said he likes the Arabic word "ra'ees," which can also be translated as "head" or "chairman.

This final measure of legitimacy comes to Arafat at the age of 62, after a long career as the leader first of the Fatah terrorist movement, then of the Palestine Liberation Organization and for the last year and a half of the Palestinian Autonomy Authority, based in Gaza.

Over the years he has masterminded attacks on airliners, schools and other facilities to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, and pressure Israel to recognize Palestinian rights. That effort culminated with the seven-year Palestinian uprising, called the intifada, in the late 1980s and early '90s. He has had a series of conflicts with other Arab leaders. And he has several times narrowly escaped political defeat and even death.

After supporting Iraq in the 1990 Gulf War, he joined the Middle East peace process at the Madrid Conference, and when that bogged down, in 1993, he sent negotiators to secret talks in Oslo, Norway which resulted in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. For that effort he and his Israeli counterparts, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, elected president of the Gaza-Based Palestinian Authority, and still chairman of the Tunis-based PLO, Arafat would appear to be at the peak of his power, so says Palestinian journalist and analyst Ghassan al-Khatib.

"I think that it will increase his power locally, and it will increase his position internationally, and most important it will also strengthen him in his negotiations with Israel in the future."

But at the same time, al-Khatib and other experts say the new Palestinian Council could put some limits on Arafat's power, even though it will be controlled by his own party. He is accustomed to ruling almost single-handedly, and has been criticized for not delegating authority even to his most trusted aides. Some analysts say that while the election increased Arafat's legitimacy, it might have reduced his authority by forcing him to share power with the new council. But others say the council's power is so far only theoretical, and will in fact depend on what al-Khatib calls the "dynamic" between the council and the new president, which is yet to be seen.

Violence Tags Palestinian Election

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

A Palestinian police officer has shot and killed a Palestinian election worker in a West Bank village, apparently in a dispute over the counting of ballots from Saturday's elections.

The peaceful atmosphere of these elections was shattered during the vote counting at a polling station in Salem Village near Nablus. According to Israel Radio and the Palestinian police, the local election supervisor, Hashem Nasser, 31, told Palestinian policemen to leave the room during the counting. Twenty-five-year-old officer Iyad Shtayh became angry, drew his weapon and shot Nasser dead.

The shooting came near the end of a process that was remarkably free of violence, in spite of concerns about possible disruptions by militant Palestinians or Israelis. There were some complaints of intimidation of voters by Palestinian police, election workers and campaigners. But the violations were relatively minor. The voting in two Gaza districts was declared void after disputes over voter lists. And many east Jerusalem voters were scared away from the polls by the heavy Israeli police presence.

But some problems were of a more positive nature -- such as the many polling stations where voter turnout was so high that ballot boxes became full, and election workers and official observers had to devise ways to store the ballots until the polls closed and it was time to count them.

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