Arafat Calls Palestinian Elections, Cabinet Quits

John Metz redsolidarity at
Wed Sep 11 18:53:16 MDT 2002

World - Reuters

Arafat Calls Palestinian Elections, Cabinet Quits
Wed Sep 11, 4:39 PM ET
By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat's
cabinet quit Wednesday after he called elections for
Jan. 20, in a move that avoided a showdown over a
confidence vote the Palestinian president risked

The cabinet's resignation was the dramatic outcome of
two days of stormy debate in the reform-minded
Palestinian Legislative Council during which lawmakers
from Arafat's Fatah faction said they would vote
against his reshuffled cabinet.

After consulting Arafat, the cabinet ministers agreed
to resign, sidestepping a confidence vote that Arafat
was in danger of losing or passing by an
embarrassingly slim majority.

Arafat will instead appoint a new cabinet in two weeks
to run an interim government until January's
legislative and presidential elections. Officials said
the interim cabinet would not require a confidence
vote by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Lawmakers who accused Arafat of not doing enough to
overhaul the government claimed victory in the duel
over the composition of the Palestinian leader's
cabinet which was reshuffled in June when Arafat
appointed five new cabinet ministers.

"Our aim was to topple the government, and the
government now is toppled," said Jamal al-Shobaki, one
of the Fatah lawmakers who had said they would vote
against the government.

Outside parliament, cracks also emerged in Fatah over
the release of a draft document, drawn up with
European Union assistance, calling for an end to
attacks on Israeli civilians. A top official said it
had been leaked before being finalized.

Before accepting the cabinet's resignation, Arafat
issued a decree setting Jan. 20 as the date for
promised elections in an announcement that followed
intense international and domestic pressure on him to
reform his government.

But this did not succeed at soothing his angry
lawmakers enough to obtain their support for his new
cabinet ministers.

One of them was Interior Minister Abdel Razzak
al-Yahya, who is also in charge of the security
forces. He recently issued a controversial call to all
Palestinian factions to halt attacks against Israel.

Arafat -- widely expected to be re-elected in the
January vote -- has faced criticism in parliament for
the June reshuffle, which many lawmakers felt did not
address their demands for reforms to end corruption
and decentralize power.

Some politicians had been pressing for the appointment
of a prime minister to take over the day-to-day
running of the Palestinian Authority.

"Palestinians used to say 'Yes, Yes, Yes' (to the
executive branch). Today they said 'No'," said
lawmaker Salam Fayyad.

President Bush ( news - web sites) called in June for
a new Palestinian leadership uncompromised by
"terrorism," making the creation of an independent
Palestinian state conditional on sweeping democratic
and other reforms and an end to violence.


Abbas Zaki, a legislator who said he would have voted
against the government, called its resignation the
beginning of "a new era of ... respect for
transparency, accountability and separation of power."

"Today will be viewed as a landmark of the Palestinian
people's history," cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told

Palestinians last held elections in 1996. Arafat had
already vowed to hold elections between Jan. 10 and
Jan.20, but had not set a date. U.S. officials have
been cool to an election before major reforms are
implemented in the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat has said that elections would be difficult if
Israeli forces continued to occupy or blockade
Palestinian towns and villages -- measures the army
says are needed to halt suicide attacks in a
2-year-old uprising.

Pouring cold water on media reports that Fatah agreed
to stop attacking Israeli civilians, Ahmed Ghneim, a
member of its Higher Committee, said the draft
document leaked Tuesday had not been approved by
grassroots members or finalized .

He told Reuters that his committee, representing
thousands of Fatah members, had objected to some parts
of the paper and set conditions for its acceptance
which had not been addressed by European Union

Another Fatah official, Hussein al-Sheikh, also said
some Fatah members had reservations about the draft.


A leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed
group linked to Fatah, told Reuters he expected the
negotiations with European Union officials over a
truce document would fail.

"We don't think it will lead to binding results. On
the contrary, we think that it will end up in
failure," said the official, Abu Majd. The al-Aqsa
Brigades has been behind a wave of suicide bombings
and shooting attacks against Israelis.

In the West Bank, masked al-Aqsa Brigades gunmen shot
a 35-year-old Palestinian man dead outside his house
for allegedly collaborating with Israel. A 65-year-old
Palestinian farmer, also accused of collaboration, was
killed by masked gunmen while cultivating his field.

Dozens of Palestinians accused of aiding the Jewish
state have been killed by armed Palestinian vigilante
groups since the start of the 22-month-old uprising,
in which at least 1,540 Palestinians and 591 Israelis
have died.

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