Abu Mazen Threatens to Quit

U.S. tells Palestinian PM-designate to stand up to Arafat's pressure on new cabinet appointments.

Palestinian prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) stormed out of a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the PLO central committee in Ramallah Saturday night after Arafat blocked his choice for a key portfolio.

Abu Mazen also threatened to quit, political sources told Reuters.

Palestinian sources Saturday expressed pessimism about the chances of Abu Mazen and Arafat reaching an agreement on the makeup of the new cabinet. Palestinian officials tried to convince Abu Mazen, who returned home after leaving the meeting, to attend a central committee meeting at a later date. It was not clear whether Abu Mazen has agreed to the suggestion.

The officials said that they believed an agreement between Arafat and Abu Mazen could be reached only in a private meeting between the two, and that the participation of the PLO and Fatah central committees at the discussions meant that the talks would reach a dead end.

The main point of contention between the two is Abu Mazen's intention to appoint former Gaza Strip security chief Mohammed Dahlan as a minister without portfolio on security matters in his new cabinet. Arafat wants Dahlan kept away from any security portfolio, after Dahlan had managed to establish a strong and independent security apparatus in the past.

Abu Mazen said that Dahlan's disqualification constituted a red line for him, and left the central committee meeting. Palestinian sources described the talks as "tense and stormy."

On Saturday, Arafat said that at most, Dahlan could be appointed as a minister dealing with peace negotiations. Arafat also demanded that between 14 and 17 of the new ministers in Abu Mazen's cabinet be former ministers of Arafat's previous governments.

Aides to Abu Mazen have said in recent days that he intends to give up the post. Nevertheless, talks have continued with Fatah members agreeing to Arafat's conditions, including his demand to keep 12 ministers of the current cabinet in their current posts. Arafat's aides claimed that Abu Mazen intends to appoint people that have business relations with his sons.

So far, Arafat seems victorious on the issue of the Dahlan appointment, with most Fatah and PLO institutes supporting the Palestinian leader's objections to the nomination.

U.S. tells Abu Mazen to stand up to Arafat's pressure on cabinetSenior United States sources have relayed messages to Abu Mazen in recent days, urging him to stand up to Arafat's pressure on appointments in the Palestinian cabinet, Israel Radio reported on Saturday. The cabinet is expected to be announced in the coming days.

The Americans clarified to Abu Mazen that his current mission has historic proportions and stressed to the new prime minister that he should use the wide-spread international support that he now has.

According to reports received in Jerusalem, the U.S. administration strongly supports Abu Mazen due to his political stance and his intention to take action to end the intifada, but the administration has reservations as to Abu Mazen's ability to contend with Arafat.

Palestinian sources said that a meeting scheduled for Friday between Abu Mazen, Arafat, and senior Fatah officials was cancelled due to differences of opinion over Abu Mazen's intention to appoint Dahlan as minister responsible for security matters.

Abu Mazen and Arafat reached agreement on almost all of the ministers who will make up the new cabinet at a lengthy meeting late Thursday night.

Palestinian sources were quoted as saying that Yasser Abed Rabbo will serve as minister responsible for negotiations with Israel, and that Saeb Erekat will be either the tourism or communications minister. The two are Arafat loyalists, and Abu Mazen did not intend to appoint them as ministers.

It was also reported that Hikmat Zaid, whom Abu Mazen wanted to appoint as agriculture minister, will not be given a ministerial appointment.

Senior Palestinian leaders on Thursday said an announcement on the new cabinet was expected Sunday.

"Progress has been made and we expect to conclude discussions by Saturday," said Palestinian planning minister Nabil Sha'ath. "Abu Mazen will present his government to the Palestinian Legislative Council by Sunday."