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April 21, 2003

Arafat, Abbas struggle over cabinet

Another article that shows Arafat too old to change his ways for the sake of the Palestinians, and thus giving those opposed to the Roadmap, reason to believe this will not take place in the immediate future.
Yasser Arafat and Palestinian prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, remained at loggerheads over the composition of the Palestinian cabinet on Monday after all-night negotiations failed to produce a compromise.

The crisis — described as the most severe ever between the two — threatens to torpedo a U.S.-backed “road map” to full Palestinian statehood within three years.

Mr. Abbas, who must win parliamentary approval for his Cabinet by Wednesday, has threatened to resign if his team is not accepted. The United States, in turn, has said it will only present the peace plan once Abbas and his Cabinet have been installed.

The main dispute is over the appointment of Mohammed Dahlan, a former security chief in Gaza. Abbas wants to give Dahlan a key security post, while Arafat wants to keep a confidant, Hani al-Hassan, in the job. The new security chief would have to supervise a crackdown on Palestinian militants, a prerequisite for moving ahead with the internationally backed peace plan.

On Saturday, Abbas stormed out of a meeting with Arafat after the Palestinian leader refused to support Dahlan’s inclusion in the Cabinet. Israel and the United States back Dahlan, who has said he is confident he can rein in the militants.

Al-Hassan does not have much international support, and as interior minister in the past few months has not succeeded in halting attacks by militants on Israelis.

Qadoura Fares, a Palestinian legislator, said there are no real alternatives to Abbas because no one else has his standing.

“At the moment, there is no agreement (on a cabinet), but in the end, we are talking about 48 hours, they have to find some compromise. There is no time to be hesitant and to delay processes that are so important,” Mr. Fares said.

The wrangling is over more than cabinet appointments. If Mr. Abbas prevails, it would suggest he can pursue an independent policy. If Mr. Arafat wins, it may mean Mr. Abbas is little more than a figurehead. [more]