- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

GAZA, March 6 (UPI) — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has nominated his deputy Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, to the new office of prime minister for the Palestinian Authority, according to a senior Palestinian official.

Ahmed Qurea, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told United Press International that Arafat had a meeting on Thursday at his Ramallah headquarters with several members of the Palestinian Central Council.

The PCC members "did not object and were very enthusiastic about the idea" of Abu Mazen as prime minister, said Qurea, who is also known as Abu Alla.

Filling the office is a bow to U.S. and European pressure for Arafat to loosen his grip on power in the Palestinian territories. Abu Mazen is seen in the West as the candidate with the best chance of taking over some elements of authority, but Arafat is unlikely to concede in any challenge for real control — if indeed the prime minister would dare launch one.

If Abu Mazen has indeed gotten the tap as prime minister, the Palestinian Central Council and the Palestinian Legislative Council are scheduled to convene on Saturday and Monday to approve the his nomination.

Abu Mazen, in his mid-60s, is the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, a Fatah leader and a member of the Palestinian Central Council of the PLO. He was the Palestinian architect of reaching Oslo peace agreements signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians, which led to the establishment of the PA on parts of the Palestinian territories.

Arafat had announced that he accepted the proposal of nominating a Palestinian prime Minister during a meeting with Quartet Committee — representing the United States, European Union, the United Nations and Russia — two weeks ago. He apparently chose Abu Mazen over other candidates such as the Palestinian Authority's Finance Minister, Sallam Fayyad.

Abu Alla said Israel agreed to allow the members of the PLC and the PCC to reach Ramallah and attend the two meetings that are scheduled to discuss the nomination of the prime minister and changing the old law. The Israeli government has previously barred Palestinians' travel from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, citing security concerns and the current unrest, and the councils have not convened.

Palestinian observers have noted many difficulties await the new prime minister: a devastated Palestinian economy; the 30-month-old intifada, or uprising; and a stalled peace process with Israel. Arafat is expected to keep the setting and implementation of foreign policy for himself, however.

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