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Arafat Agrees to Appoint Prime Minister - 2003-02-14

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has agreed to appoint a prime minister as part of a political reform process demanded by much of the international community.

Mr. Arafat met Friday with European Union, United Nations and Russian diplomats at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Speaking afterwards to reporters, the Palestinian leader said he had agreed to appoint a prime minister at the urging of the international negotiators.

Mr. Arafat did not say when the appointment would be made or who might be named prime minister. Mr. Arafat did say, however, that he would convene a meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council to discuss the issue.

The Palestinian leader has been under increasing pressure especially from the United States and European countries to reform his administration, which has been accused of being corrupt and inefficient. One of the key demands has been the appointment of a prime minister for day-to-day management of the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian leader had resisted that demand, apparently fearing such a move could weaken his position. It remains unclear just how much power Mr. Arafat is now willing to share with a prime minister.

Israel and the United States have refused to deal with Mr. Arafat directly in recent months, accusing him of encouraging attacks against Israelis. Both have called for Mr. Arafat to be replaced or sidelined. European countries and the United Nations have also been critical of Mr. Arafat, but have not called for his ouster.

Many average Palestinians are also unhappy with the performance of Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority, but they have also rallied around him in response to the Israeli and American pressure. Palestinians point out that Mr. Arafat was freely elected as president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, and they reject efforts to oust the man they see as their leader.

But, internal pressure for reforms has steadily increased.

Last year, Mr. Arafat called for general elections that were to have been held in January. That vote was canceled when Palestinian officials said it would be impossible to hold free and fair elections as long as Israeli troops occupy major Palestinian population centers. Convening the Palestinian legislature could also prove difficult, as it has recently, unless Israel agrees to allow its members to travel to such a meeting.

Palestinian officials say the issue of naming a prime minister, and making other reforms, is directly linked to the so-called roadmap the effort by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia to rekindle Israel-Palestinian peace talks, with the goal of ending violence and creating a Palestinian state.