by Dan Katz
Ariel Sharon's right-wing Israeli government seems set to build a massive, 20-metre high security wall, which will encircle a large part of the West Bank. The enclosed area-only a part of the West Bank-could form the basis for a future Palestinian semi-state, although Sharon denies that this is his intention.
The PLO's Michael Tarazi has accused Israel of wanting to grab even more of the Occupied Territories, including good agricultural land, and to fully control future movements between Palestinian-controlled areas and Jordan.
The Israeli government has also announced its opposition to the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state. It claims to favour an entity with some of the "attributes of sovereignty". Sharon intends to water down George Bush's recently announced "road map" proposals for the creation of some sort of Palestinian state within three years.
On 18 March a significant shift in power took place inside Palestinian politics when PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, surrendered a significant part of his powers to a new Palestinian prime minister. Arafat has already indicated that he intends his deputy in the PLO, Abu Mazen, to get the job.
At the last minute Arafat attempted to hang on to some of his powers, but he was over-ruled by the Palestinian parliament. Arafat has not only found himself under pressure from the US and Israeli governments to step aside, but he has also been criticised by many Palestinians for running a corrupt and repressive administration.
The US and Israel have told the Palestinian leadership that a pre-condition for further substantial talks is Arafat's sidelining.