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Arafat Searches for New Cabinet Amid Dissatisfaction with His Leadership - 2002-09-12

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is searching for a new cabinet as he tries to close the divide between his supporters and lawmakers dissatisfied with his leadership.

Wednesday's Cabinet resignation was front-page news in Palestinian newspapers and many Palestinians are hailing the action as a positive development.

An editorial in the Al-Quds newspaper says the resignations under pressure from parliament are a sign of real democracy in the Palestinian Authority. The editorial also blames the Palestinian leadership for not paying enough attention to internal problems and corruption, and for focusing only on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

The dispute between a growing number of disenchanted legislators and Yasser Arafat and his ministers has been growing for some time.

The Palestinian parliament was to vote Wednesday on whether to accept Mr. Arafat's new cabinet choices. But many lawmakers felt that despite the addition of five new members, the reorganized cabinet did not go far enough to make the government more efficient and less corrupt.

To avoid what would, in effect, have been a no-confidence vote and a major embarrassment to Mr. Arafat, the entire cabinet resigned.

The open rebellion by the lawmakers is viewed as a clear warning to Mr. Arafat, the most serious challenge to his authority.

Lawmakers say they want to see young, new faces in the next cabinet and they want serious governmental reforms. Some legislators are also calling for the appointment of a prime minister to handle the day-to-day operation of the government, which would relegate Mr. Arafat to more of a figurehead role.

The Palestinian leader has also been under intense international pressure to reform his government. Israel and the United States have demanded major reforms within the Palestinian Authority and would like Mr. Arafat to step aside altogether.

Israel's chief of military intelligence, Aharon Ze'evi, described Wednesday's cabinet resignation as a "political earthquake" that would eventually lead to Mr. Arafat's replacement.

Mr. Arafat now has 14-days to select a new cabinet. He has also called for presidential and legislative elections January 20. Despite growing criticism, most current opinion polls indicate the Palestinian leader is likely to be re-elected head of the Palestinian Authority.