- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

JERUSALEM Palestinians have rejected a U.S. proposal to have their parliament choose a prime minister who could balance the power of Yasser Arafat.
As an alternative to the 73-year-old leader, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in a meeting in Washington with Palestinian officials two weeks ago, proposed that the Palestinian parliament choose a prime minister, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.
In a report yesterday to an international task force in Paris on Palestinian reform, the Palestinian Authority said it would not agree to changes in the electoral system used by Palestinians in 1996 to confirm Mr. Arafat as leader.
"We told them [the United States] that this is not your business," Mr. Erekat said. "We were shocked during the discussions that the American side is speaking about changing the law of elections."
The United States is trying to delay the balloting, he said.
Washington has been seeking to sideline Mr. Arafat whom it accuses of stoking violence while calling for elections as part of efforts to persuade the Palestinian Authority to undertake sweeping reforms.
But Mr. Arafat, who remains popular among Palestinians, is likely to be re-elected in an open vote.
A U.S. official contacted yesterday refused to confirm the disagreements over the election process.
Raanan Gissin, adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, confirmed the United States proposed a parliament-chosen prime minister as a way of sidestepping Mr. Arafat.
"They [the Palestinians] rejected that," Mr. Gissin said. "The election as proposed in its current state will only ensure that the same people and the same reign of terror will be re-established."
Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops yesterday killed two Palestinians trying to infiltrate a Jewish settlement, underscoring the fragility of a plan to reduce tensions in the area.
Three armed Palestinians disguised as Israeli soldiers tried to infiltrate the settlement, and troops killed two of them, the army said.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
The violence overshadowed an agreement to turn security in Gaza over to Palestinians as a trial for easing harsh Israeli restrictions in the West Bank imposed after a spate of suicide bombings in Israel.
Under the agreement, Israel turned over security duties to Palestinian forces in the West Bank town of Bethlehem this week and was to take similar measures in Gaza.

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