PALESTINE: Showing the strain
Daoud Kuttab

The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, is in danger of losing his job like his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned after a power struggle with Yasser Arafat.

This statement may appear overly pessimistic, but word from Arafat"s headquarters points to a lack of trust in Qurei, following his May meetings with senior US administration figures Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Of course, annoyance in the Palestinian camp could be put down to Powell"s criticisms of Arafat during his meeting with Qurei in Jordan. Or Powell telling the World Economic Forum meeting at the Dead Sea last month that the US still favored the replacing of Arafat as the Palestinian head. The statement - although not saying anything new - came as a surprise to the Palestinian leadership, which thought that the US might have been toning down its "change your leadership" calls by agreeing to high level meetings with Qurei.

What further irked Arafat`s camp was that Qurei`s meetings with Rice in Germany brought no tangible results for the Palestinians, despite his press release to the contrary.

These meetings were all the more disappointing because Powell, who had publicly criticized the Israelis for demolishing Palestinian homes in Rafah and killing scores of Palestinians, was expected to be more supportive.

Palestinians think that the Bush administration is trying to use such senior level meetings with Qurei to improve its relationship with moderate Arab leaders like King Abdullah of Jordan and Egypt"s Hosni Mubarak.

They also worry that Powell`s criticism of Israel is to placate Arab anger, while the real position of the Bush administration - as George W. Bush had expressed in a recent speech to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby group in the US - was that Israel has to do whatever it needs to defend itself.

The feeling among some of the senior Palestinian leaders is that, with Republicans needing to entice Jewish support in the November presidential elections, the Bush administration is unwilling or unable to deliver anything of substance to the Palestinians.

Key states like Florida - with its large Jewish population and 25 electoral votes - could well decide the next president.

Qurei was put in an unenviable position: by getting nothing of substance from meetings with senior US leaders, he has given the impression of playing into the hands of the Americans. However, if he had not met Powell and Rice he would have missed out on important opportunities.

Comments in the wake of the meetings indicate at minimum a lack of coordination, or even trust, between Qurei and Arafat. Arafat expected Qurei to publicly admonish Powell for his criticism of Arafat. He also did not like Qurei giving the impression that his meetings with Rice were fruitful.

Some Arafat figures fear that Qurei and his cabinet might be "cooking" a deal with the Americans behind Arafat"s back. With such suspicion, they are reading meaning into some public statements that might not have been intended. For example, comments by King Abdullah to the effect that the Palestinians need to have a single point of reference was not meant as questioning the legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership, as some thought, but was rather offered as advice.

No doubt the undemocratic US position of refusing to deal with an elected Arab leader is a source for mistrust. What is worrying, however, is that Arab and Palestinian leaders are unable to see the dangers of not having a higher degree of trust and confidence in themselves and in each other.

Palestinian unity and Palestinian-Arab solidarity are the most powerful assets that Palestinians possess. These assets must not be weakened in the face of hostile US and Israeli positions.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah