Palestinian Authority reform is demanded


JERUSALEM - Calling Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority a "rotten and dictatorial regime of terror," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday that Israel would not enter any peace negotiations until it could sit down with a "different Authority."

"The Palestinian Authority must be reformed in every respect," Sharon said, demanding changes to the political, security, social, financial and legal structures. "Everything must be overhauled."

In his remarks to parliament, Sharon formally added the requirement of reform to his longstanding condition of a complete halt to all Palestinian violence and incitement against Israel before talks could begin.

Palestinian officials rejected the new condition as a diversion and a stalling tactic.

Speaking two days after his party's leadership rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, Sharon did not refer explicitly to such a state yesterday, as he had previously.

10 years or more

But he made clear that he still envisioned negotiations over borders after a long-term "interim agreement" and a lengthy period of peace.

Sharon has indicated privately that that period could be 10 years or longer. Palestinian leaders are demanding immediate negotiations toward statehood, arguing that the chief obstacle is not Palestinian violence but Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon said Israeli forces would continue to raid Palestinian-controlled territory as long as any threat remained of Palestinian attack.

"We have not completed our mission," he said, praising Israel's wide-ranging West Bank offensive last month.

Early yesterday, Israeli soldiers killed two members of the Palestinian security forces during a sweep through the town of Halhoul, near Hebron. Israel said both were wanted men. Israeli forces also invaded at least two other West Bank villages, arresting at least 12 Palestinian men.

Years of complaint

Many Palestinian leaders, political analysts and average citizens have complained for years about inept or corrupt management. With Arafat free from the Israeli siege of his Ramallah compound and able to travel again, some Palestinian analysts have argued that he should move quickly toward civic reform.

But Yossi Sarid, the opposition leader in the Israeli parliament, cautioned after the prime minister spoke that by making such reform his own demand, rather than a Palestinian initiative, Sharon was guaranteeing that it would not take root.

In a poll published yesterday, the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that an overwhelming majority of members of Sharon's party, the Likud, disagreed with the decision taken Sunday by the party's central committee to dismiss the creation of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.

Sharon has said he supports the eventual creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state, but he argues that its precise borders should be negotiated only after years of calm.

Air, land and water

He believes that, for its own security, Israel must retain control of Palestinian airspace, strips of land in the West Bank and possibly certain aquifers that supply Israelis with water.

He also says that an undivided Jerusalem must serve forever as Israel's capital.

Officials of the Palestinian Authority demand that Israel fully withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, the lands it occupied in the 1967 war, and permit a Palestinian state there with its capital in Jerusalem.

Shimon Peres, Israel's foreign minister and a member of the left-leaning Labor Party, said the central committee's action only enhanced the chances for Palestinian statehood.

"The whole world stood up for a Palestine state," he said. "So no matter what the Likud people wanted to achieve, they have achieved the opposite."

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