Off the roadmap: Abbas packs his bags, U.S. warns Arafat

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

RAMALLAH Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has begun preparations to enter exile.

Palestinian sources said Abbas has been in contact with several Arab governments regarding the prospect of leaving the PA areas for exile. The sources said the preferred destinations are Egypt and Qatar.

Abbas, the sources said, has been bracing for a vote of no-confidence on Thursday by the Palestinian Legislative Council. The sources said most of the 83 members either support a no-confidence motion or a compromise that would dilute Abbas's authority.

For the last two weeks, Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat have engaged in an open power struggle for control of the security agencies and that of the huge civil service sector. Arafat has used Fatah forces to block Abbas's appointments, meant to replace loyalists of the PA chairman, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Abu Mazen wants complete control of the security agencies and that is the red line for Arafat, who is determined to clip Abu Mazen's wings," a Palestinian source close to the prime minister said. "It's clear that Abu Mazen does not intend to continue under such circumstances."

Abbas has boycotted attempts by the PLO to avoid a showdown on Thursday.

The PLO Executive Committee has drafted a settlement under which Arafat would head a new five-member national security council. The proposal would also allow Arafat to appoint an interior minister, the position of which has been informally filled by Security Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan.

Under the settlement, the prime minister will also return to the PLO leadership. Arafat will resume his authority over all high-level appointments as well as negotiations with Israel.

The United States has contacted Arafat supporters in the PLC and warned that the dismissal of Abbas could lead to a change in U.S. policy to support the establishment of a Palestinian state over the next few months. The sources said the Bush administration prefers to delay any no-confidence motion in a move that would enable Abbas to continue in his post.

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