Arafat Delays Formation of New Cabinet

05:26 PM EST November 04, 2003 The Associated Press RAMALLAH, West Bank Yasser Arafat delayed the formation of a new Cabinet on Tuesday by blocking his premier’s choice for security chief, which will slow fledgling efforts to restart peace talks with Israel after a three-month freeze in contacts, Palestinian officials said.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has assigned all Cabinet portfolios, with the exception of the interior minister, who would control the security forces, the officials said. Qureia met Tuesday with Arafat, but failed to resolve the dispute over the post. Underlying the argument is Arafat’s refusal to relinquish control over some of the security services. Qureia’s candidate, Gen. Nasser Yousef, seeks broad powers. Qureia’s emergency government expires Tuesday, but he said he would present his new Cabinet to parliament by next week. In Washington, the Bush administration said it was monitoring the situation. „Our view continues to be that the Palestinian prime minister must have control of all the security forces and that any new Cabinet must make clear its opposition to all forms of terrorism,” State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. The Cabinet also must „take tangible to steps to see that terrorists and military organizations not under the control under the Palestinian Authority are disarmed and dismantled.” Waiting in the wings are the Israelis, who established tentative contacts with Palestinian officials in recent days, hoping to arrange a meeting between Qureia and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once a Palestinian government has been formed. The leaders would talk about a possible truce and how to break the deadlock over the U.S.-backed „road map” peace plan for creating a Palestinian state. Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Arafat, who they charge is tainted by terrorism. They insist on dealing with an empowered Palestinian Cabinet that controls Palestinian security forces through its interior minister. Arafat wants Hakam Balawi, a senior official from his ruling Fatah party, in the post. Qureia insists on appointing Yousef, a general with vast security experience, once an Arafat crony but more recently critical of the veteran leader, Palestinian officials said. Jamal Shobaki, a minister in the emergency Cabinet, said the interior ministry appointment was the only issue holding up formation of the government. Arafat and Qureia met Tuesday, after a Cabinet session, to discuss it, he said. „At the end of the meeting, we left both of them … to solve the problem,” Shobaki said. Asked if he thought they could work it out, he said, „I don’t think so.” The same dispute contributed to the downfall of the first Palestinian premier, Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned Sept. 6 after just four months in office. Qureia has said a top priority is working out a cease-fire. He said he would start by bringing Palestinian militants, like Hamas, into agreement, and then bringing in the Israelis. During a trip to Russia, Sharon made some of his most conciliatory comments since high-level contacts broke down in August, following a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 23 people in Jerusalem. „I believe that shortly a new Palestinian administration will arise which will fight to destroy the terror infrastructure and work for a real implementation of the road map (peace plan) and true peace,” Sharon said late Monday in Moscow. An official traveling with Sharon said that if Qureia forms a government, a meeting between the two men could take place „within a very short time.” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio on Tuesday that „Israel now is trying to contact the Palestinian leadership in order to narrow the gaps between us and them.” Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who met a senior Palestinian official over the weekend, talked on Tuesday about a post-Arafat era. „We are in the process where there is change in the Palestinian leadership in that Arafat is in the midst of vacating his post,” Mofaz told a seminar in Haifa. „I don’t know when it will happen, but the process has begun.” In September, Israel’s Cabinet labeled Arafat an „obstacle to peace” and said it would „remove” him, but Sharon later backed away from the threat. Now Israel insists that the new Palestinian government confront militant groups, something Qureia has said he will not do, preferring to negotiate an end to violence. The „road map” plan requires the Palestinians to dismantle violent groups. Sharon reversed his policy last week, scrapping a demand for a crackdown on Palestinian militants as a condition for talks. Domestic displeasure over Sharon’s inability to end the violence may have been a factor in the switch. Sharon also faces pressure within his own government. Shinui, a moderate party in the coalition Cabinet, said Tuesday it will propose a peace plan that includes dismantling the Netzarim settlement in Gaza and halting targeted killings of Palestinian militants. A call from within the government to remove a settlement would mark an unprecedented challenge to Sharon, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian gunmen recently attacked Netzarim, isolated deep in Gaza, killing three Israeli soldiers. The attack prompted a public debate over the settlement’s viability. Meanwhile, a survey released Tuesday showed Palestinians pessimistic about peace prospects, while many supported suicide bombing attacks and operations inside Israel as well as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The poll, by the Palestinian JMCC media group, found that 72 percent were pessimistic about the prospects of a peaceful solution to the Israel-Arab conflict. In response to other questions, 68 percent favored new attacks against Israelis, 62 percent supported suicide bomb attacks and 57 percent opposed a halt to attacks inside Israel. The survey employed face-to-face interviews with 1,198 Palestinian adults between Oct. 18-21 and quoted a margin of error of three percentage points.