- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

TEL AVIV — Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas stepped in yesterday to resolve an escalating dispute within his Fatah party over Cabinet appointments proposed by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Mr. Qureia’s nominations were rebuffed repeatedly this week by Fatah lawmakers who want the Cabinet to include new reformers and to be stripped of veteran ministers tainted by corruption charges.

In a late-evening meeting with the prime minister and party legislators in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Abbas hammered out an agreement to appoint a Cabinet dominated by professional laypeople rather than political veterans.

Mr Abbas’ intervention averted a possible resignation by the prime minister and an embarrassment to the newly elected president of the Palestinian Authority.

Legislators praised the Cabinet of “technocrats,” though they said it had not been finalized. A vote of confidence is scheduled for today..

“This is according to the new vision and new style,” said Hatem Abdul Khader, a member of the Palestinian parliament. “We are talking about reform; it is not enough just to speak.”

The first crisis of Mr. Abbas’ fledgling administration highlighted the political vacuum in the ruling party left by Yasser Arafat after his death Nov. 11. With the party facing elections in a few months, Mr. Abbas must strike a balance between older Fatah apparatchiks who still wield considerable influence and younger politicians pressing for change.

Those two camps clashed this week when Mr. Qureia presented a Cabinet slate that essentially was a reshuffling of past Palestinian governments. Upset over not having been consulted, lawmakers warned they would reject the confidence motion. Dissatisfaction with Mr. Qureia’s failure to enact reforms during a year and a half in office stoked the unrest.

“They want to see new faces and accountability,” said Mohamed Yaghi, a columnist at the Al Ayyam newspaper. “They want to see real change.”

Fatah is battling a reputation among Palestinians for corruption and ineffectual leadership as municipal and legislative showdowns with the militant group Hamas approach. In elections held in 10 Gaza localities in January, Fatah was routed. Party members fear the same fate awaits them unless they can show progress in reforming government.

Palestinian law required the swearing in of a new Cabinet within weeks after the election of a new president of the Palestinian Authority. The agreement reached yesterday will reserve spots for Nabil Shaath, the foreign minister, and Mr. Qureia. The remaining 22 portfolios are to be delegated to lawyers, academics and professionals who aren’t career politicians, said Mr. Abdul Khader, the Palestinian legislator.

Fatah members continued to discuss the final makeup of the Cabinet even after the meeting, suggesting that Mr. Abbas only has limited authority to dictate a resolution. Instead, he must reach a consensus.

“Part of the explanation is that you don’t have a tribal chief who can impose his will in the end. When it comes to allegiance, the Fatah movement is not fully behind [Mr. Abbas], as it was behind Arafat,” said Zeydani, a political analyst.

“If he can come up in the end with a government that is a government of change, it might be a blessing in disguise. But if this wrangling continues, of course his reputation will be negatively affected.”

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