Cabinet deal clears path for roadmap

25 April 2003
International leaders have welcomed an 11th-hour deal ending the standoff over the composition of the new Palestinian cabinet. The resolution paves the way for the US to publish its long-awaited 'roadmap' for reaching a settlement to the Middle East crisis.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat conceded on 23 April to the appointment of Mohammed Dahlan as Security Affairs Minister after Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was sent by President Hosni Mubarak to end the bitter row between Arafat and the new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had threatened to resign if Arafat continued to block his choice of ministers.

The power struggle between the two men, which saw Abbas attempt to remove Arafat loyalists from the cabinet, came to a head over Abbas' wish for Gaza-born Dahlan to take the Interior Ministry portfolio. Arafat, who fell out with Dahlan last May, opposed the appointment, preferring the incumbent Hani al-Hassan to remain at the ministry instead. A compromise, initially rejected by Arafat, was reached whereby Abbas will himself take the Interior Ministry portfolio while Dahlan will be responsible for security affairs.

Arafat's readiness to veto decisions served to underline concerns that he is not prepared to share power with Abbas, whom he appointed as prime minister in March after coming under increasing pressure from the US. Washington, keen to sideline Arafat, has said that it will publish the roadmap as soon as the Palestinian Legislative Council (parliament) officially approves the cabinet. US Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to travel to the region soon afterwards and will meet with Abbas but, pointedly, not Arafat.

The US-initiated plan, which is backed by the other quartet members - Russia, the EU and UN, was prepared last October and envisages a three-stage process to the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. One of the first steps will be the dismantling of Jewish settlements erected under the Sharon government and bringing to an end Palestinian violence and Israeli actions 'undermining trust' between the two communities.

The difficulties faced in implementing the plan were underlined on 24 April when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up, killing one other and injuring at least 12 Israelis in the town of Kfar Saba.

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