- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

TEL AVIV — Ahmed Qureia yesterday set tough conditions for accepting an offer to serve as Palestinian prime minister, saying Israel must honor its obligations under a U.S.-backed peace plan and end the assassinations of Hamas militants.

Israeli officials were slow to comment on the choice of the 65-year-old ally of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, saying any new Palestinian leader would be judged on his success in halting terror attacks against Israel — as required by the same peace plan.

Mr. Qureia reportedly accepted the appointment in principle during a day of talks with Mr. Arafat and the U.S. acting consul general in Jerusalem, but declined to give his final consent without assurances he would not face the obstacles that doomed outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

The prime minister-designate, also known as Abu Ala, insisted that the United States guarantee it would press Israel to fulfill its commitments under President Bush’s “road map” peace initiative. So far neither side has complied with the plan’s requirements, with each insisting the other side go first.

Mr. Qureia also demanded that Israel end its boycott on contacts with Mr. Arafat and allow him to leave his Ramallah headquarters, where the Palestinian president has been under effective house arrest for almost two years.

“I don’t want failure,” said Mr. Qureia, the Associated Press reported. “It’s the Israeli government that brought down the previous government.” Each side has blamed the other for Mr. Abbas’ shock resignation over the weekend.

Mr. Qureia, considered a moderate with strong ties to the Israeli left, also called on Israel to promise that it would halt its assassination campaign against Palestinian fugitives in exchange for a new cease-fire by the militant groups.

A U.S. official said that the Bush administration expects the new prime minister to continue government reforms — including consolidation of control over security forces — and to fulfill Palestinian commitments under the road map, which calls for it to dismantle terrorist groups.

At the same time, the Bush administration is reminding Israel of its obligations under the peace plan, the AP said.

Mr. Abbas blamed his resignation Saturday on Israel, the United States and Mr. Arafat, who resisted the prime minister’s efforts to bring all the security services under his own control.

Mr. Abbas also lost support among Palestinian politicians and the public when Israel responded to a Jerusalem bus bombing with a series of assassination strikes against Hamas leaders and renewed checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

By appealing to the United States and Israel, Mr. Qureia was trying to reach an understanding that would avert another such political crisis, said an Israeli colleague.

“He’s a strategist. The region in general and the Palestinians need a strategist rather than a micromanager,” said Uri Savir, a former Israeli negotiator who struck up a friendship with Mr. Qureia while sitting across the table from him during the Oslo negotiations.

“After the resignation of his friend Abu Mazen, he’s the only man who can do it. He has a 100 percent total commitment.”

The Israeli government has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the appointment, even though Mr. Qureia is a well-known confidant of Mr. Arafat.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told European diplomats that while Israel won’t deal with a leader who turns out to be a puppet of Mr. Arafat, the prime minister-designate will be judged on his success in neutralizing terrorist groups like Hamas.

“The Israelis need a partner,” said Batsheva Genut, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. “If Abu Ala is the man who is going to decide finally to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, then we’re in business. It depends on how much independent power he’s going to be given.”

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