PLO guns give way to red tape

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AS THE deadline approaches for the Palestine Liberation Organisation's assumption of responsibilities for affairs in the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, it is being forced into a rapid but necessary transformation from a revolutionary movement into an effective administrative machine, writes Charles Richards.

After the celebrations of 13 December end, no one can foretell how ready the Palestinians will be to start taking charge of education and culture, health and policing, as Israel slowly transfers its authority in these and other areas. Many express doubts that the PLO can meet the challenge.

For so long the organisation has symbolised to Palestinians everywhere the embodiment of their national aspirations. Can the PLO transmogrify into the ideal body to bring real benefits to the people?

The transformation has produced strains, within the PLO and between the PLO and Palestinians in the occupied territories, as they jockey for jobs. And the appointment of officials has exposed the worst traits of Yasser Arafat's management style - autocratic, secretive and manipulative.

Criticism of the PLO-Israel accord has taken violent form, among Islamic zealots in the occupied territories and among radical groups who have killed two Arafat commanders in Lebanon. More serious is criticism of Mr Arafat from supporters of the accord, who doubt his ability.

One senior PLO official is philosophical: 'Everyone points the finger at Abu Ammar (Arafat). Everyone wants him to take decisions. But I tell them, ya akhi, brother, it is up to everyone to do what they can to build our new society.'