- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

GAZA, March 18 (UPI) — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has signed a presidential decree that nominated Mahmoud Abbas to be the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, official Palestinian sources told United Press International.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decree would be made public within the next few hours and Abu Mazen, as Abbas is known, will be authorized to form the new government.

Abu Mazen is the secretary general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a member of the Palestinian Central Council. He was chosen by Arafat and the PLO to be the new premier.

The sources said that after the decree is published, Abu Mazen will begin work on forming a new Cabinet and present it before the Palestinian Legislative Council within two weeks for a vote of confidence.

The sources said Arafat was expected to meet with Abu Mazen late Tuesday or Wednesday morning, officially hand him the written presidential decree, and ask him to form the Cabinet.

Abu Mazen is then expected to start negotiations with PLC members, PCC and PLO executive committees as well as political and Islamic factions and groups, including the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and seek their participation in the new Cabinet. Both militant groups have rejected any cooperation with Abu Mazen.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to Arafat, said that after the Palestinian leader "approved the version of the basic law, all the constitutional procedures had finished, and the atmosphere has been prepared for the prime minister to start working soon."

On Tuesday night, Arafat approved the new amended version of the Palestinian Basic Law that was earlier approved by the PLC. The new version allows the Palestinian Authority to nominate a new prime minister who would then form a government and chair the Cabinet.

Zeyad Abu Amer, head of the PLC's political committee, told UPI the amended law was approved after Arafat dropped his opposition to it.

The last major point that Arafat and PLC members argued over was whether the prime minister should present a list of new ministers to the president before sending the names to the PLC for its approval.

PLC Speaker Ahmed Qurea told reporters that Arafat's approval of the new version "would reinforce democracy in the Palestinian official institutions."

The new version of the basic law gives wide administrative and executive authority to the prime minister.

The decision was welcomed around the world.

"I think the Palestinian legislature has taken an important step in moving forward by confirming the office and the duties of the office," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Miguel Angel Moratinos, the European Union envoy to the region, called the appointment a "great achievement."

On Friday, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the United States would publish a proposal — called "the roadmap" — aimed at getting the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table the moment the new Palestinian prime minister assumed his post.

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