Beirut — Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat is beginning to have his wings clipped in a bid by loyalist forces to end the two-month mutiny within his Fatah faction.
PLO headquarters in Tunis Wednesday announced changes in the Fatah executive committee - in effect a Cabinet reshuffle. The move introduces the principle of collective leadership - one of the rebels' demands - that will reduce Mr. Arafat's dominant hold on Fatah and, in turn, the other seven factions that make up the PLO.
The reshuffle divides power among loyalists, but with no increase in the role of dissidents, who are calling for radical policy changes. Rebels in Damascus have already indicated the move is not enough to end the split.
Indeed the PLO crisis continues to gain momemtum, despite a host of compromises offered by Mr. Arafat to appease the militants.
On the political front, a six-man negotiating team dispatched by Mr. Arafat to mediate with Syria and the rebels returned to Tunis virtually empty-handed. They were unable to meet with either Syrian President Hafez Assad or rebel leader Col. Said Musa (Abu Musa) during four days of talks.
On the military front, a new round of fighting broke out Wednesday between supporters and opponents of Mr. Arafat at bases in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, despite pledges by both sides to adhere to a new cease-fire.
The PLO chief has offered to withdraw loyalist guerrillas from the volatile valley to avoid further confrontations. This would also weaken his position, removing his men from the last front-line positions, which would be left in the hands of rebels. But the concession has so far been ignored.
Loyalists headquartered in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli have admitted this week that there has been a new round of defections to the rebels. Spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman said the rebels now number 1,000, roughly 20 percent of Fatah forces in Lebanon.
A PLO major in charge of security in Baalbek announced he was leading his troops to the rebel side. Baalbek was one of the last two holdouts of the loyalists. The key defection Wednesday indicated that base may be crumbling, too.
And the possibility of yet another evacuation, this time probably to Tripoli, led seven Fatah security officers to join the mutiny rather than carry out the order.
Morale has been further lowered by reported detentions of loyalists living in Damascus. And Mr. Arafat announced that there have also been threats to PLO offices abroad, most of which are run by loyalists.
Meanwhile, the dissidents have been making increasingly militant statements. Abu Musa said this week that he did not believe in a West Bank state, except as a stage to the rebirth of Palestine in all of Israel. Both US and Arab peace plans envision a homeland only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abu Musa said his policy was one of ''no reconciliation, no recognition, and no negotiations'' with Israel. Queried on whether he would expel all Jews, he said: ''No, why should we? Not the Jews who were present in Palestine (up through 1948), but those who emigrated to Palestine with the rise of Israel are not Palestinians. They must go back to the countries they came from.''
There are now virtually no grounds for compromise between the loyalists and rebels on a political formula, unless one side backs down completely.
Because of the militancy of the dissidents, Mr. Arafat has again turned to Moscow to help end the crisis. Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, announced that Mr. Arafat would travel to the Soviet Union next week. And Naif Hawatmeh of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) is currently there appealing for Russian intervention with the Syrians, whose support is pivotal to the rebellion.
But President Assad has again signaled his commitment to helping achieve a transformation of the guerrilla movement in policy and leadership. PLO loyalists spokesmen claimed Mr. Assad has relayed a message to Mr. Arafat that there can be no reconciliation until all the rebel demands are met and a public apology made to Syria.