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October 02, 2002

Arafat heads off call for prime minister

Yassir Arafat, Palestinian Authority president, has succeeded in heading off pressure from reformists to appoint a prime minister who would have assumed many of his executive powers.

Having emerged victorious from his battered Ramallah compound at the weekend, after Israel unconditionally lifted a 10-day siege, Mr Arafat persuaded his dominant Fatah movement to shelve the plan until such time as there is a Palestinian state.

The Ramallah siege, which the government of Ariel Sharon called off under intense US pressure, generated a surge of popular support for the Palestinian leader just as it appeared the reformists were about to succeed.

The Fatah central committee, a majority of whose members was believed to have backed the immediate appointment of a prime minister, decided at a meeting on Tuesday to drop the idea.

The appointment was among US and Israeli demands for wide-ranging reform of the PA that must be carried out before talks could resume. Palestinian officials said there was resistance within the central committee to appear to be bowing to US and Israeli pressure.

Mr Arafat has also asked for a three-week extension before naming a cabinet to replace the one that resigned on September 11. The ministers quit in the face of an anticipated no-confidence vote in the Palestinian parliament.

Mr Arafat was to have announced a new team, more acceptable to the reformists, on September 26. But that date coincided with the height of the siege.

Shimon Peres, Israeli foreign minister and a critic of the Ramallah siege, said: "The whole thing was superfluous. It delayed [reform] processes and it mobilised support for Arafat."

He did not go along, however, with the claim of Palestinian reformists that Mr Sharon had deliberately ordered the siege to scupper Palestinian reform. "I'm not that cynical," Mr Peres said.

In Ramallah on Wednesday, reformist politicians were putting a brave face on the setback, insisting that the broad reform programme would continue. But they accused Mr Sharon of acting to prevent the emergence of a more democratic PA which he would be under international pressure to negotiate with.

source: [link]