Abbas facing problems in forming Palestinian cabinet


Abbas facing problems in forming Palestinian cabinetPalestinian Prime Minister-in-waiting Mahmoud Abbas set out his list of Cabinet ministers today, expecting quick approval to trigger the presentation of a US-backed peace plan, but opposition to some of his choices has emerged.

Once Abbas takes office, President George Bush has said he will present the road map plan, starting the clock toward Palestinian statehood in three years. The United States and Israel have demanded that veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat move aside before peace talks resume.

But Arafat and several leading members of his Fatah movement object to some of Abbas' appointments. "There is a very big argument about this Cabinet," said MP Nabil Amr, a reformer who has been offered the post of information minister.

"President Arafat has reservations about some names in this Cabinet." Abbas is planning a wide-ranging reshuffle of Arafat's Cabinet, moving all but two ministers, demoting several, firing others and bringing in reformers and experts to guide the overblown and corruption-ridden Palestinian regime.

Last night, Fatah's Central Committee postponed at the last minute a session in which the Abbas Cabinet was to be approved. The body does not have a formal say over the Cabinet, but Abbas, who is Arafat's deputy in Fatah and the PLO, is seen unlikely to buck the will of his main power base.

Arafat and top Fatha officials dug in over appointment of a new interior minister, in charge of security forces, insisting on retaining Hani al-Hassan, a close aide. Abbas refused, and in the end, decided to keep the ministry for himself.

Abbas was hoping to win Fatah approval and present his Cabinet later in the week, but the last-minute manoeuvring threatened another delay. The three phase road map calls for an end to 30 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence and pullback of Israeli forces from forward positions in the West Bank, followed by provisional Palestinian statehood and negotiations over final status issues like borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.

Israel has presented 15 requests for changes in the plan, insisting on ironclad procedures guaranteeing an end to Palestinian attacks before Israel makes any moves. The Palestinians charge that Israel is trying to sabotage the plan.

However, Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon yesterday indicated that he would be willing to uproot some Jewish settlements in exchange for true peace with the Palestinians.