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Palestinian Leaders Agree On New Government - 2003-04-23

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, have agreed on the formation of a new government, ending days of wrangling and uncertainty. The cabinet list must be confirmed by the legislature.

Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia said he received word from President Arafat and from Mr. Abbas that a new cabinet had been formed and is ready to be presented to the Legislative Council for final approval.

Mr. Qureia said he would call a special session of the council within a week.

The Palestinian leader and his prime minister-designate had been locked in a bitter dispute over how much power to share and over who would be in the new cabinet, in particular who would be head of security. Mr. Abbas wanted former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan in the position. Mr. Arafat did not.

But there was a last-minute compromise, mediated by a senior Egyptian envoy who had come to Ramallah to try to break the impasse. After hours of discussions, Mr. Arafat announced the agreement, appearing in his cabinet room with Mr. Abbas and others.

Under the compromise, Mohammed Dahlan was named minister of state for security affairs, while Mr. Abbas retains the Interior Ministry portfolio.

In return for agreeing to this, Yasser Arafat is said to have received guarantees for his personal safety and assurances that his isolation will end. For more than a year, the Palestinian president has been confined to his bombed-out and mostly demolished compound in Ramallah, often surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks.

The full list of cabinet members is to be released later, but some names are already leaking out; such as that of Nabil Shaath, who apparently will serve as foreign minister.

Disagreement over forming the government prompted enormous international pressure on Mr. Arafat to compromise. The dispute also threatened to scuttle plans by Washington to re-launch Middle East peace efforts.

The Bush administration said it would release the so-called roadmap to peace only when a new credible Palestinian government was sworn in. The roadmap envisions ending more than two years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table to work toward a final peace agreement, and the formation of an independent Palestinian state.