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Arafat Faces Challenge from Lawmakers - 2002-09-10

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is facing a rebellion from lawmakers who are threatening to vote against a new cabinet. A vote on the issue in the Palestinian parliament has been postponed, as Mr. Arafat's supporters search for a way to defuse the crisis.

Mr. Arafat is struggling to get parliamentary approval for the new streamlined cabinet that he first announced in June.

The Palestinian leader made the changes under pressure from the United States, Israel and his own people to demonstrate he is serious about reform.

But some lawmakers in the Palestinian parliament, which is meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, have accused Mr. Arafat of not being genuine about ridding his administration of corruption and mismanagement.

Some of the legislators now say they intend to vote against the cabinet to protest Mr. Arafat's leadership.

In a bid to avoid a test of Mr. Arafat's hold on power, some of his closest supporters have rallied around the Palestinian leader.

The speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmed Qreia, says that the parliament will convene again Wednesday, when the legal committee will decide how the ballot to approve the new cabinet will be conducted.

Any show of no-confidence by the parliament would be a serious blow to Mr. Arafat, who has refused calls by the United States and Israel to step aside and make way for a new Palestinian leadership.

In a move that could improve Mr. Arafat's standing internationally, his Fatah faction is considering a draft document drawn up with the help of European Union mediators that calls for a halt to attacks on Israeli civilians. But some senior Fatah officials say they have reservations about the draft.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials are continuing to hold meetings with their Israeli counterparts.

Topics under discussion include a possible easing of Israeli military sanctions against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including closures and curfews.

The Palestinian Authority is also demanding the transfer of tax revenues frozen by Israel since the start of clashes two years ago.