- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia announced the formation of a Cabinet yesterday, backing down from a bitter confrontation with Yasser Arafat and leaving the veteran Palestinian leader in firm control of the security forces.

Mr. Qureia’s defeat in his power struggle with Mr. Arafat left him severely weakened and threatened to complicate efforts to restart talks with Israel and begin implementing the U.S.-backed “road map to peace.”

Israel and the United States, who have worked to sideline Mr. Arafat, were disappointed at the outcome. They had pushed for the consolidation of disparate Palestinian security forces under the prime minister, a measure they see as crucial to cracking down on Palestinian militant groups.

Still, Israeli officials, who face public pressure to resume some sort of peace process, stopped short of saying they would boycott Mr. Qureia because Mr. Arafat remains effectively in control of government.

“This is a sad day for reform, because we see that the control of the security services remains in the hands of Arafat’s cartel of terror,” said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The United States also was critical, saying Palestinian leaders must move quickly to end the continuing violence.

“The prime minister must have control of all of the security forces and insist that terrorists and military organizations not under the control of the Palestinian Authority be disarmed and dismantled,” State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt said.

Saeb Erekat, a returning Cabinet minister, called Israel’s reaction to the new government “unacceptable,” saying it should stay out of Palestinian internal affairs.

“The focus should be on reviving the peace process and … implementing the road map,” he said.

It was not clear whether Israel would resume high-level contacts with the Palestinians, as initially expected.

Palestinian politics have been in disarray since the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, resigned Sept. 6 after failing to wrest the security forces from Mr. Arafat’s control. Mr. Qureia was appointed his successor, but wrangling over the same issue had prevented him from forming a permanent government.

The new Cabinet, comprising 24 ministers including Mr. Qureia, will be presented to parliament for approval tomorrow.

The Cabinet brings back many veteran politicians who have served in previous administrations, despite Mr. Qureia’s promise to bring new blood into the government.

In the new lineup, Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath keep their jobs.

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