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IN THE NEWS - New Palestinian Government - 2003-11-16

Broadcast: November 15, 2003

This is Steve Ember with In the News, from VOA Special English.

Planning has been taking place for talks between Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They are to discuss ways to end three years of violence between the two sides and restart peace talks.

Both sides are under pressure from the United States to renew peace efforts now that a new Palestinian government is in place. The Palestinian Legislative Council approved Mister Qureia’s government on Wednesday. The council voted forty-six to thirteen. Five council members did not vote.

Mister Qureia has twenty-four members in his cabinet.

Mister Qureia was speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He became acting prime minister in September. He could not form a cabinet, however, because of a dispute with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Mister Qureia had threatened to resign when Mister Arafat would not approve his choice of interior minister. The dispute lasted ten weeks.

On Sunday, Mister Qureia ended the political dispute. He accepted Mister Arafat's choice of Hakam Bilawi as interior minister. Mister Bilawi will have some control over the police, civil defense and security forces. But Mister Arafat will have most of the control over the security forces as the head of the new National Security Council.

Mister Qureia took office after Mister Arafat named an emergency cabinet to replace the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Mister Abbas resigned in September after losing a similar power struggle with Mister Arafat over security issues.

Mister Arafat has controlled the security forces since the Palestinian Authority began in nineteen-ninety-four. Israel and the United States have held him responsible for the failure to stop terrorist attacks against Israelis. They have demanded that he give control of the security forces to his prime minister.

Mister Arafat said in a speech this week that the time has come to end what he called the "destructive war" with Israel.

Israel and the Palestinians are under international pressure to carry out a peace plan known as the road map. The United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia proposed the plan. The aim is to establish an independent Palestinian state by two-thousand-five. The plan calls on Israel to stop building settlements, and the Palestinian security forces to break up militant groups.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Israel and the Palestinians must work together and help each other. Israel says it wants to give him a chance to move the peace process forward. On Friday, four of Israel's former security chiefs criticized Ariel Sharon's current policies. They said Israel faces a lot worse trouble unless he works toward a peace agreement soon.

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