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Palestinian Parliament Establishes Prime Minister's Post - 2003-03-10

The Palestinian parliament has voted overwhelmingly to establish a new post of prime minister but he will only have limited power. The decision follows pressure from the international community for genuine reform and reducing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's grip on power.

The Palestinian Legislative Council has approved a bill allowing for the appointment of a prime minister with limited powers.

The council voted 73-1 for the change, which also defined the powers of the prime minister to largely deal with internal affairs, including naming and supervising cabinet ministers.

The decision follows intense pressure from Europe and the United States for reforms amid strong dissatisfaction with Mr. Arafat, who has had overriding control of the Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1994.

At the same time, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat emphasized that even with a prime minister at his side, Mr. Arafat planned to remain at the center of power.

"I would like to say openly and clearly the prime minister will be there to help and compliment President Arafat and not to replace President Arafat," he said.

Mr. Arafat is expected to retain ultimate responsibility for the Palestinian security apparatus and foreign policy, including any peace negotiations with Israel.

He also has the right to appoint and dismiss the new prime minister. He has already announced that he will nominate his deputy, Mahmoud Abbas for the post.

Israel's new Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, says that it remains to be seen whether Mr. Abbas will be given the chance to help stop the violence that has raged in the region for more than 29 months.

"It looks right now that it is only one step," he said. "The question right now is not who is going to be the next prime minister, the real question is whether he will get the authority and implement those positive steps that he was talking about before he was nominated."

Mr. Abbas, a co-founder of Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has told colleagues in private forums that the armed uprising against Israel that began in September 2000 should be suspended.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, cut off all direct contacts with Mr. Arafat in December 2001 but has continued to meet with Mr. Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials.