Push for rule of law in West Bank

Nabil Amr, a Palestinian reformer who was shot in July, returned to the occupied territory this week.

If the gunmen who shot reformist Palestinian legislator Nabil Amr through the window of his house in July hoped to silence him, they are being disappointed.

Mr. Amr, a vocal critic of the late Yasser Arafat's monopoly on power, was warmly welcomed back to his village of Dura over the weekend after four months of treatment in a German hospital. He immediately lashed out at the Palestinian Authority's failure to arrest anyone in the shooting, and more generally, the absence of daily security for Palestinian citizens.

"I feel I am back to life again," says Amr, a former minister of information. "I'm back from the mouth of death to another stage in my life and I will continue my message and my position and my direction." He defines this as pushing for democracy, building viable institutions, and restructuring the unwieldy and often competing labyrinth of Palestinian security forces into one streamlined organization.

Amr's shooting led to the amputation of part of his right leg, rendering him a visual symbol of the lawlessness and intra-Palestinian violence that plagues the occupied territories. So this close ally of Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate to succeed Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), limped on an artificial limb among well-wishers who greeted the tall, stylish politician with kisses on the cheek.

Amr's reentry into Palestinian politics comes at a crucial juncture as Mr. Abbas, a veteran peace negotiator with little street popularity, tries to step into the enormous shoes of Arafat without any guarantee of help from the US or Israel, and with armed men and militias calling the shots in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in what has become known as "the chaos of the guns."

Amr says PA action is needed to ensure that other politicians do not suffer the same fate as he. "We need real security for our people. Without it, what is the difference between chaos and occupation?" Amr asks. PA officials, however, blame Israel for the lack of security, saying its military incursions and prohibition on PA policemen carrying weapons make it impossible to restore order.

Arafat blamed the Amr shooting on Israel, but observers say that they believe it was an attack from within Arafat's ruling Fatah movement, most likely by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade militia. Although rare because it struck a lawmaker, Amr's shooting fits in with a larger pattern of violence including shooting by gunmen near Abbas at a mourning tent for Arafat in Gaza City this month; the killing of an Arafat adviser, Khalil Zaben, in Gaza last March; and the kidnapping of a PA governor, Haidar Irsheid, last year. In all of the incidents, the perpetrators went unpunished.

Two hundred and thirty Palestinians have been killed by other Palestinians during the intifada, not including alleged collaborators, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. In none of the cases were the perpetrators brought to justice, PHRMG says. "I believe it will be a violent election campaign," PHRMG director Bassem Eid says of the run-up to the Jan. 9 presidential elections.

In remarks to the crowd of about 200 in a chilly auditorium here, Amr said: "Everyone agrees we are not in our best condition right now. We will be in our best condition when we erect the state of law. We will be in our best condition when the identity of the shooter of a member of the legislative council becomes known after one day, rather than having a huddle to conceal him and a running away from responsibilities and saying, 'We don't know,' so that others are killed after him."

Amr says the shooting incident near Abbas in Gaza highlights the need to establish law and order there in advance of Israel's planned withdrawal.

"If we fail to make a real and modern administration in Gaza and a modern security apparatus, who will support us in asking for a state in the West Bank?" he asks.

Amr declines to answer if he would like to see the Al Aqsa Brigade disarmed. "Allow me to start my work on the ground, not through the media," he says. "I am sure that I, Abu Mazen [as Abbas is known], and the others will do a lot. We will deal carefully with all the groups to lead them to the right direction."

A West Bank spokesman for the Al Aqsa Brigade says: "No one dares to dismantle us, and we hope we do not have a confrontation with anyone because will we show them that they are unable to do so as long as there is occupation."

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