Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Call for Vote May Revive Road Map

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Call for Vote May Revive Road Map

Article excerpt

Newly anointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Wednesday that the PA would hold elections by June 2004, a move that seems designed to pressure Israel to abide by a US-backed road map toward peace, which calls for the Palestinians to hold such elections and the Israelis to facilitate them.

The push for elections also reflects the deadlocked state of Palestinian politics; many Palestinians say that elections are necessary to invigorate their leadership. "People want a change, which is not going to be possible until there is an election," says Jamal Shobaki, a minister in Mr. Qureia's cabinet.

Qureia's move - which effectively renders his government a lame duck just as it begins - follows a speech last week by President Bush in which he called upon the nations of the Middle East to adopt representative government. "For the Palestinian people," Mr. Bush said, "the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy."

Wednesday the Palestinian Legislative Council approved Qureia's premiership and his new cabinet. His predecessor as prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, resigned in part because of a power struggle with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat over who should control the Palestinian security forces.

Mr. Abbas wanted to bring the forces under the control of an interior minister; Mr. Arafat wanted to put them under the aegis of a national security council that he would chair. Arafat prevailed.

With Qureia as prime minister, Arafat continues to prevail. He rejected Qureia's choice for interior minister, a senior Palestinian military figure named Nasser Yousef, and so Qureia appointed a man considered close to Arafat. The security forces remain under the control of the newly-formed NSC.

But the conflict between Arafat and his two prime ministers is in some ways an artificial one. Arafat agreed to the institution of a PA prime minister only because of pressure from the US and Israel, which have tried over the past two years to sideline Arafat and encourage the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership.

The problem is that Arafat was and is the indispensible Palestinian political figure; recent polls show that his popularity remains undimmed. "The Americans and the Israelis have highlighted and invigorated Arafat's position," says Salah Tamari, another minister in the new Cabinet.

Arafat's power plays weren't Abbas's only stumbling blocks; so was Israel's reluctance to take steps that would have boosted his popularity and given him something of a power base. Even the chief of staff of the Israeli military, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, has criticized Israel's policies during the Abbas administration, saying Israel was "stingy."

In speeches Wednesday, both Arafat and Qureia appealed to their occupiers to return to negotiations. …

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