Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat tried Saturday to appease lawmakers angered by alleged corruption and mismanagement in his government, but many came away disappointed by what they said were empty promises of reform.
In a speech to his parliament's new session, Arafat also blamed Israel not only for the breakdown of the peace process, but for a wide range of other problems in the Palestinian lands.Despite reports of ill health, the 68-year-old Palestinian leader appeared vigorous during his nearly two-hour speech, gesturing energetically and making a V-for-victory sign. But the speech - and reaction to it - underscored the growing pressures he faces.
"None of us deny or ignore that mistakes have occurred," Arafat said. But he insisted the performance of his Palestinian Authority was improving overall and stressed his willingness to make the necessary "adjustments."
That wasn't enough to satisfy lawmakers, who had threatened a no-confidence motion against Arafat last year but held off after he indicated he would shuffle the Cabinet and sign measures lawmakers had enacted. Neither of those has happened.
"Unfortunately, we heard the same talk that we heard in the past," said Gaza lawmaker Ziad Abu Amr. "We had expected to hear a clear commitment to making requested changes."
Lawmaker Husam Khader from the West Bank city of Nablus, who did not attend the session because he had undergone an appendectomy, said unless Arafat shuffles the Cabinet and stops treating his legislature so dismissively, "the Palestinian people cannot move toward democracy or civil rights."
Arafat, flanked by Palestinian flags and a big portrait of himself, sought to place the blame for a variety of ills on the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. He renewed warnings that the peace process was "about to breathe its last breath."
"I am not exaggerating when I say that nothing is moving or making progress. Everything is backtracking or standing still," he said.
He also criticized Israel for what he said was a strangulation of the Palestinian economy by restricting workers' travel to jobs in Israel.
"Israeli policy, using economic means, aims to take away our people's ability to survive by choking our livelihood," he said.