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Arafat, Fatah Discuss Formation of New Government - 2003-09-18


Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and members of his Fatah movement are meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss the formation of a new government under Prime Minister-designate, Ahmed Korei.

Fatah leaders are meeting in Ramallah to hammer out the composition of a new cabinet. Expectations are the new government will be large, with more than 20 ministers, that it will be broad-based and filled with a substantial number of staunch Arafat supporters.

The Palestinian Authority was thrown into political turmoil when the previous prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, resigned earlier this month after a power struggle with Mr. Arafat and amid frustration over the lack of results in negotiations with Israel on the implementation of the "road map" peace plan.

Israel has been wary of any new Palestinian government and officials say they will not negotiate with Mr. Arafat or his hand-picked lieutenants. But, they also say Israel will wait and see what actions any government takes, in particular if it will crack down on terrorism.

Mr. Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials have called for Israel to agree to a mutual cease-fire, whereby armed Palestinian groups would halt all attacks against Israel if it agreed to halt its military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including its targeted assassinations of militant leaders. Israel has rejected the offer, saying a truce is not enough and the Palestinian Authority must act to dismantle terrorist organizations, such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

In an interview published by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, Mr. Arafat said talks are underway with militants to agree to a new cease fire. He said his envoys are making progress and that Islamic Jihad is ready for a truce, while Hamas is "sending positive signals."

The United States and Israel have refused to deal with Mr. Arafat because they say he continues to support terrorism, a charge the Palestinian leader denies. Both have sought to sideline him, but a decision by Israel's Security Cabinet last week to remove Mr. Arafat as an obstacle to peace has brought widespread international criticism and has boosted Mr. Arafat's standing. Palestinians have camped outside his compound in Ramallah to show their support and to protect him against any Israeli action and he is once again the center of attention.