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Arafat: Palestinians Reject Israeli Occupation, Not Jewish State


The Palestinian parliament has approved Yasser Arafat's new 19-member cabinet in a strong show of support for the Palestinian leader. The cabinet was approved by a vote of 56 to 18.

The overwhelming support for Mr. Arafat's list came as no surprise. Since the Israeli siege of his compound in Ramallah that ended earlier this month, support for the Palestinian leader has grown.

Until then, Mr. Arafat had been under intense pressure from the Palestinian legislature to introduce reforms.

Israel and the United States have also called for major democratic and security reforms in the Palestinian Authority and a new leadership, which President Bush has said must be, as he put it, uncompromised by terror.

There are four new faces in the government and the number of positions has been reduced from 21 to 19. But the new cabinet is similar to the one that Palestinian legislators forced to resign last month. Mr. Arafat said he is committed to reforming his government, but he accused Israel of using reform demands as a pretext for trying to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

In a speech announcing his cabinet, Mr. Arafat said that the Palestinians' rejection of Israeli occupation did not mean they object to Israel's existence.

As he put it, "We extend our hand to you in reconciliation and we extend the olive branch to resume the path that we began in Madrid and Oslo." Peace talks that led to the historic 1993 interim peace agreement with Israel were held in both cities.

Meanwhile, a growing dispute over funding for Jewish settlements in the occupied territories is threatening to bring down Israel's coalition government.

The Labor Party, led by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, said it will vote against the budget if money is not shifted from settlements to social needs. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has warned that such a vote will lead to the dismissal of the Labor Party ministers from his cabinet, a move that could force early elections.