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IN THE NEWS - Palestinians Agree on a New Government - 2003-04-25

Broadcast: April 26, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, have agreed on a new cabinet for the governing Palestinian Authority. The agreement was announced Wednesday at Mister Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah.

A compromise was reached after an intense dispute between the Palestinian leader and his new reformist prime minister. They disagreed on how much power to share and who would be in the new cabinet. And they could not agree on who would be head of security. Mister Abbas wanted former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan in the position. Mister Arafat did not.

European and Arab leaders pressured Mister Arafat to accept Mohammed Dahlan’s appointment. The Palestinian leader refused.

Mister Dahlan is former security chief in Gaza. Mister Arafat dismissed him last year. Some say his political base threatens Mister Arafat’s political control.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent Egyptian diplomat Omar Suleiman to help end the dispute. In a final compromise, Mister Abbas named many Arafat loyalists to top positions in the cabinet.

Mister Arafat permitted Mister Abbas to keep his job as interior minister. And Mister Arafat agreed to let Mohammed Dahlan become security chief. These two positions are considered the most important to easing Palestinian violence. Mister Arafat remains president of the Palestinian Authority.

The dispute threatened American plans to restart Middle East peace efforts. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have promised greater efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the United States and Israel did not want to deal with Mister Arafat as the main negotiator. They hoped that Mister Abbas and his new cabinet would reduce Mister Arafat’s power in the Palestinian Authority, giving them someone new to negotiate with.

Observers say the power struggle between Mister Arafat and Mister Abbas shows that the Palestinian president still holds enough power to block reform.

The Bush administration said it would release a Middle East peace plan when a new Palestinian government was officially in place. The so-called roadmap to peace was approved in December by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. It calls for compromises by both sides that would progress to a resolution of all disputes and an independent Palestinian state in three years. Israel is seeking changes in the plan.

The new cabinet must be confirmed by the Palestinian legislature. The full list of twenty-four cabinet members is to be released later.

American Secretary of State Colin Powell is to travel to the area next month to seek approval for the plan. He also is expected to go to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria to discuss how Arab nations can support the plan.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.