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May 23, 2003

We Do Not Do Anything Without His Approval

TROUBLE IN THE HOLY LAND: New PM says Arafat still in charge
Despite being sidelined by the U.S. and Israel, Yasser Arafat is still very much in charge, according to the Palestinian Authority's new Prime Minister.

"Arafat is at the top of the [Palestinian] Authority. He's the man to whom we refer, regardless of the American or Israeli view of him," said Mahmoud Abbas in an interview with Egypt's semi-official al Mussawar weekly, according to Reuters.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, said Arafat's stamp of approval should precede any political action.

Abu Mazen, appointed by Arafat last month, is regarded by the "quartet" facilitating the "road map" to peace as a moderate reformer in contrast to Arafat, who is viewed as unwilling to stop terrorism.

The road map is a phased plan drafted by the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia that requires the PA in the first stage to implement administrative reforms and fight terror. The plan calls eventually for a Palestinian state followed by a final-status agreement addressing issues such as borders, Jerusalem and refugees.

In the interview, Mazen said he "will not allow any serious differences between Arafat and me."

"There may be day-to-day differences," he told the Egyptian weekly, according to Reuters, "but there will be no serious problems that lead to 'divorce.'"

Noting most Palestinians and Arabs regard Arafat as the symbol of the struggle for independence, Abu Mazen vowed he would not travel abroad until Arafat also was allowed full freedom of movement.

Meanwhile, Arafat has issued a "presidential decree" removing the regional governors from the authority of the Interior Ministry to his own office, reported the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

PA sources, according to Ha'aretz, say the decision Wednesday was aimed at undermining Abu Mazen and Security Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan, the de facto interior minister in the new PA cabinet.

Most of the 14 governors are Arafat loyalists who returned with him from Tunis in 1994, Ha'aretz said.

"Arafat wants to make sure that his men will not be thrown out by Abbas and Dahlan," one source told the Israeli paper. "By retaining control over the governors, Arafat is actually sending a message to Dahlan and Abbas to the effect that he is still the boss."