AS Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat continues deliberations to set up a team to take charge in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, moves are under way to form a broad opposition front against the historic deal with Israel signed in Cairo on May 4.
The opposition, which includes key former participants in the peace talks and the majority of PLO groups, seriously complicates Arafat's efforts to form the new Palestinian governing authority.
Under the agreement, civil administration of Jericho and the Gaza Strip will be transferred to the Palestinians. But the deal has triggered wide opposition because it is seen as allowing Israel to maintain the upper hand through a series of joint committees that, in effect, will oversee Palestinian affairs. And it also requires that Israeli laws and military orders previously in effect in the area remain so.
So far only one major Palestinian group, the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), has agreed to join the Palestinian authority set up to run autonomy affairs. The other PLO groups and most leading former Palestinian negotiators from the occupied territories have condemned the deal and refuse to take part in the authority.
The leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) are working to form an opposition front. Critics of the deal include the former chief Palestinian negotiator, Haider Abdel-Shafi, Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, and two co-founders of Arafat's Fatah movement, Khalid and Hani al-Hassan.
Except for Mr. Arafat and Intissar Wazir, widow of the PLO military leader, Khalil Wazir, no other candidates from the long-time leadership of Fatah are so far joining the new authority. Even Mrs. Wazir is said to be reluctant to go back with Arafat as part of the new leadership. Arafat's critics charge that he will end up depending on personalities who lack credibility as national leaders against Israeli occupation.
Arafat lost a major partner in the peace process when the Palestine People's Party (PPP) declared it was not joining the Palestinian authority.
But while the Damascus-based left is seeking to lead the opposition, independent Palestinians such as Dr. Abdel-Shafi, supported by the PPP, are trying to start a new grass-roots movement that will break away from the internal PLO power struggle.
In an indicative move, it was the opponents of the agreement who leaked the documents to the press and circulated them widely among Palestinians in Jordan and the occupied territories.
The leftist opposition seems to have obtained the documents from disgruntled leadership members who are hesitant to join the opposition, but were dismayed by the agreement.
Thus, for the last week, the agreement has been used as a potent weapon to incite resentment against the leadership, while so far not a single PLO official who supports the agreement has come out to defend its provisions publicly.
When reached, PLO officials involved in the deal do not deny the published details, but say that they hope the terms will improve once the authority is established by the beginning of June.
The accord and its annexes say that Palestinian legislation and policies should be negotiated with the Israeli authority and require its approval.
But the most serious flaw cited by the opposition and supporters of the agreement alike is not Israel's role through the joint committees, but that the Israeli military laws and orders will remain in effect.
``Laws and military orders in effect in the Gaza Strip and Jericho area prior to the signing of the agreement shall remain in effect unless amended or abrogated in accordance with this agreement,'' the agreement stipulates.
To many Palestinians, the PLO's acceptance of maintaining Israeli laws in effect absolves Israel from any responsibility to abide by international laws and conventions that could help in a gradual termination of Israeli control by the end of the three-year transitional period.
But while the opposition appears to have succeeded in setting public opinion against the agreement, at least for the time being, it has yet to come out with an alternative unified plan.
If anything, there are indications of a serious schism between the Islamic opposition and the leftist opposition over how to deal with the future authority. For while the leftist DFLP and PFLP are boycotting the authority as an Israeli lacky, the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, has declared that it will judge the authority according to its performance.
Regardless of Hamas's motivations, its position gives Arafat breathing space. Arafat is said to have intensified his contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt, which has strong influence on Hamas, to break up a potential Islamic leftist alliance against him.