West presses Palestinian PM to compromise with Arafat

Special to World
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been under increasing Western pressure to back down from his demand to directly head Palestinian security services.

Palestinian sources said Abbas has been under U.S. and European Union pressure to accept a compromise that would ensure the formation of his Cabinet. The sources said U.S. and EU officials and diplomats have stressed that a new Cabinet is vital for the implementation of a roadmap for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas's nomme de guerre] is receiving all sort of messages that the important thing is to get the roadmap moving," a senior source said. "The rest can be dealt with once the new government is functioning."

Abbas and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat have been feuding over the prime minister's appointment of Mohammed Dahlan as the new interior minister.

Arafat regards Dahlan as a critic of the PA chairman and wants incumbent Interior Minister Hani Al Hassan to continue in the post.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned several European and Arab allies of Arafat to find a compromise solution. Powell also spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on alternative candidates for both Abbas and Dahlan.

"It's essential the Palestinians complete this process of establishing a government urgently," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday.

Abbas has threatened to resign unless he can appoint his Cabinet without interference from Arafat or the ruling Fatah movement. Abbas, who seeks control over Palestinian security agencies, has until Wednesday to submit his Cabinet for vote by the Palestinian Legislative Council. Officials said they doubt whether the prime minister will resolve his feud with Arafat by then.

Palestinian sources said the EU and United States have determined that it is more important for Abbas to appoint Arafat loyalists to his Cabinet rather than resign. The sources said Washington does not have another candidate for prime minister that can inspire trust.

Several Arafat loyalists have been viewed as candidates for the post of prime minister should Abbas resign. They include PA International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath and PLC speaker Ahmed Qurei. "Consultations continue and intensive efforts are still being exerted," Qurei said on Monday.

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