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Abbas, Qurei dispute new PA cabinet (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH 02/01/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107280303481 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
A sharp dispute between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei is preventing the formation of a new cabinet, senior PA officials in Ramallah disclosed on Tuesday.

According to the officials, Abbas and Qurei have been at loggerheads since Abbas announced two weeks ago his intention to replace at least six ministers.

Qurei is reportedly opposed to such a move, saying the changes should not affect more than three ministers. The prime minister is opposed to a major reshuffle because a new cabinet will anyway be established after next July´s parliamentary elections.

Abbas and Qurei met twice over the past two weeks in an attempt to patch up their differences, but to no avail, said one official.

The two are expected to meet again later this week in yet another attempt to reach an agreement on the makeup of the new cabinet.

"It´s a serious crisis," the official said. "It looks more like a power struggle between the two men. We hope we won´t return to the same power struggle that we had under [Yasser] Arafat."

The post of prime minister in the Palestinian Authority was created in 2003 under pressure from the US and the international community with the declared aim of cutting Yasser Arafat´s powers and forcing him to cede control over the security forces and finances of the PA.

Abbas, who served as the first prime minister, was forced to resign after only four months in office, mainly because Arafat refused to share powers with him. Now that he has replaced Arafat, the new PA chairman also does not want to serve as a powerless figurehead and insists that he alone has the right to run the affairs of the PA.

Abbas´s argument is that as an elected leader he is entitled to carry out real changes in all fields in accordance with his new political and economic agenda. As such, he wants to replace the ministers of security, foreign affairs, information, interior, economy and social welfare, as well as the cabinet secretary.

Abbas is seeking to appoint Maj.-Gen. Nasser Youssef as interior minister in charge of all the security forces. Youssef will replace incumbent Interior Minister Hakam Balawi, who was appointed by Arafat and is closely associated with Qurei.

He also wants to replace Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath with Nasser al-Kidwa, the PLO envoy to the United Nations, who is Arafat´s nephew.

Abbas is also seeking to bring into the cabinet three of his loyalists – Muhammad Dahlan, who will hold a key security position, Nabil Amr, slated to become information minister, and Mohammed Shtayyeh, who will replace Maher al-Masri as Minister of Economy.

Sources close to Qurei say he is opposed to the appointment of Youssef as interior minister and insists on keeping Balawi in his job. Qurei, the sources add, does not want a major cabinet reshuffle because this would require a vote of confidence in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The majority of the PLC members have long been demanding a major reshuffle, threatening to topple Qurei´s cabinet if he does not fire several ministers whose names have been linked to various financial scandals.

"Qurei knows that if he goes to the Palestinian Legislative Council now he will lose because there is a majority in support of a no- confidence motion against his cabinet," a Palestinian legislator in Gaza City explained.

At the weekly meeting of the cabinet, Qurei told his ministers that he is opposed to the formation of a new cabinet at this stage. "The present cabinet is capable of functioning, with minor changes, until the parliamentary elections in July," he said.

Qurei added that his cabinet will lay emphasis on reconstructing the PA security forces and implementing comprehensive reforms.

The Palestinian prime minister also said that the PA cabinet discussed at length allegations that some Palestinian companies and top PA officials had been importing cheap cement from Egypt for the construction of the security fence in the West Bank.

The case, known as the "cement scandal," was revealed by a Palestinian parliamentary commission last year, prompting many Palestinians to call for an immediate investigation. At least two ministers have already been implicated in the case, as well as a number of senior officials who were close to Arafat.

Qurei said that the PA general prosecutor, who launched a criminal investigation into the scandal, presented his findings to the cabinet earlier this week. He said the full report would be made available to the public soon and that there will be no immunity for those implicated. (© 1995-2004, The Jerusalem Post 02/01/05)

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