AMMAN, Jordan, July 9 (UPI) -- A group of prominent Palestinians disillusioned with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have formed a new political movement to offer an alternative to West Bank and Gaza voters in the coming elections.
Jihad Bargouti, one of the movement's founders, said Tuesday the fledgling Palestinian National Solidarity Movement is led by Edward Said, an American academic of Palestinian origin who has been prominent in Palestinian affairs.
Marwan Bargouti, Jihad's brother and head of Tanzim, the armed wing of Arafat's own Fatah organization and currently in an Israeli jail, was also a leading member.
The PNSM was formed late last year by a group of leading Palestinians who are critical of the way the Palestinian Authority has administered the West Bank and Gaza under Arafat's leadership.
Jihad Barghouti, a Palestinian surgeon with Jordanian nationality, gave no indication of the extent of the new movement's grassroots following among Palestinians. But he said the PNSM plans to hold a meeting in the West Bank shortly that would test public reaction.
Marwan Barghouti, seen by some as a possible successor to Arafat, was arrested and has been held by the Israelis since April when they swept into the West Bank in response to a campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings.
Said, a professor of literature at Columbia University, New York, brought up in Egypt the child of Christian Palestinian Arabs, was a member of the Palestinian National Council before the Israeli hand-over of West Bank towns and Gaza following the Oslo peace agreement. Said broke with Arafat when the Palestinian leader signed the Oslo agreement.
He has been criticized in academic circles for what is seen as his militant pro-Palestinian stand. In 2000, Said drew sharp criticism from his university's newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator, after being photographed throwing rocks at Israelis from the Lebanese side of the common border.
The paper called Said's behavior "alien to this or any other institution of higher learning."
Last month, U.S. President Bush called for Arafat's removal as chairman of the Palestinian Authority and for reforms that would make the organization democratic and free of corruption.
Jihad Barghouti said 20 leading PNSM members held a series of meetings beginning in Zurich, Switzerland, in November, to drew up a strategy for the post-Arafat era.
The PNSM proposes that once Arafat is marginalized in Palestinian politics, there be a 15-member interim government for two years to be followed by elections for a Palestinian president.
Western officials, including Americans, who were at the meeting welcomed the PNSM plan, Barghouti said. He refused to identify the officials.
A number of names were proposed for president, Barghouti said, including political, academic and cultural personalities.
Barghouti runs a hospital in Amman and is known as a harsh critic of Arafat, who he blames for the difficult conditions the Palestinians find themselves in. His one regret is that so far at least Arab governments have distanced themselves from the PNSM, Barghouti said.