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Palestinians Create Post of  Prime Minister - 2003-03-10


The Palestinian Legislative Council has approved the creation of a new post of prime minister for the Palestinian Authority. The vote is part of reforms aimed at restarting the peace process.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat formally proposed a change in the Palestinian Basic Law to allow the creation of the post of prime minister.

The measure was approved by a vote of 64-3 with four abstentions.

But the work is far from over, as the Council must now decide on the nature of the role the new prime minister will play.

Mr. Arafat has nominated moderate Mahmoud Abbas to serve as prime minister. But Mr. Abbas has made it clear that, unless he is able to make the appointments he wants in the new government, he will not take the job.

Several proposals have been made on the structure of the new government. One suggests the Egyptian or Jordanian model, which leaves the prime minister little room for appointments on his own, while others have proposed the Lebanese model, which gives both the president and prime minister executive authority in the government.

The debate is expected to take several days and there are indications that the negotiations could be difficult.

A hint of just how hard the road ahead might be followed the vote on the creation of the post. Mr. Arafat said after the results were read out, "I understand from your vote that you have accepted the nomination of Mahmoud Abbas." Whereupon several members shouted "No, No," pointing out there had been agreement on creating the post, but not on the candidate or what powers he would wield.

Israel has praised the nomination of Mr. Abbas, a moderate also known as Abu Mazen, as a welcome move toward reforming the Palestinian leadership.

United Nations special Middle East envoy Terje Roed Larsen welcomed the creation of the post of prime minister and the man nominated to fill it. He called Mr. Abbas a credible candidate, who has proven his commitment to peaceful reconciliation with Israel.

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