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Arafat, New Prime Minister Agree on Palestinian Cabinet

Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, the new prime minister, had feuded over cabinet officer selections in recent weeks, and were still at an impasse as a midnight deadline approached.

The two had reportedly argued bitterly over Abbas’ choice for the new head of the Palestinian security forces. Abbas preferred Muhammad Dahlan, the former security chief in the Gaza Strip, while Arafat wanted his close aide and current security chief Hani al-Hassan to keep the job.

News services reported that Dahlan will be included in the new cabinet, but it was unclear whether he would be named security chief. Palestinian officials said a list of cabinet appointees will be published later Wednesday.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had reportedly threatened to resign over the conflict with Arafat, but continued last minute negotiations after reportedly receiving international encouragement.

“Arafat and brother Abu Mazen have sorted out their differences,” Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, a senior aide to Arafat, said, according to Reuters.

Arafat appointed Abbas in March after coming under heavy criticism by world leaders for not doing more to reform the Palestinian authority. President Bush had refused to continue dealing with Arafat and strongly backed the idea of a new prime minister.

The Palestinian leader apparently acquiesced to international pressure to approve Abbas’ cabinet after being vigorously lobbied by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and diplomats from various nations and international organizations. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman reportedly brokered a final compromise between Arafat and Abbas, but the details of the agreement were not disclosed.

The “road map” for peace is a still unreleased plan backed by the so called “Quartet,” the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. The Quartet has said the implementation of the road map is contingent upon the naming and approval of a new reform cabinet.

Abbas is considered to be a reformer by the Quartet leaders, who backed his appointment. Quartet leaders have reportedly also supported the choice of Dahlan as security chief because they believe he will be more successful cracking down on militant groups.

The road map for peace calls for a crackdown on terrorists operating in Palestinian areas, reform of Palestinian governmental institutions, the beginning of the Israeli military’s withdrawal from Palestinian areas occupied since 2000, a freeze in the building of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, and the naming of a “provisional” Palestinian state.

Abbas’ cabinet still must be approved by the Palestinian parliament, which is controlled by Arafat’s Fatah party.

“We were asked to call for a special session of the Palestinian legislature to vote confidence in the new government,” Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia told reporters. “I will call for a session … within a week.”

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the United States had no immediate comment because it had not received confirmation of the agreement. However, Fleischer said “It’s important to move forward, and part of moving forward is the confirmation of the cabinet.”

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