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Arafat, Abbas Approve Terms of Reference

Arafat, Abbas Approve Terms of Reference, Mechanism of Negotiations

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas on Monday worked out an agreement sorting out presidential and premiership powers, with formulas specifying the terms of reference and the follow-up mechanism of the negotiating process with the Israeli side, according to the Palestinian Basic Law (constitution).

"The disputes are over, and things are all right,” Abbas told reporters Monday after meeting Arafat in his ruined compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The agreement set the stage “to remove the fallout of what seemed a real crisis” following PM Abbas’ resignation from the central committee of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah last week, the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported on Tuesday.

Abbas announced his resignation from Fatah central committee and threatened to quit as premier on July 7.

However PM Abbas on Monday announced that he did not withdraw his Fatah resignation. “I did not withdraw it,” he told reporters in Ramallah.

In a meeting, attended by the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa), PLO executive committee member Ghassan el-Shaka’a and PLC member and former chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, President Arafat and PM Abbas approved the final formula of the agreement.

“The formula endorses the reference and the follow-up of the negotiating process through the Higher Committee of Negotiations, headed by President Arafat, and which includes the prime minister,” Al-Ayyam said.

Palestinian officials said the two men agreed to add Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian finance minister, as a new member to the committee. It was not immediately clear if Fayyad had accepted the appointment, The New York Times reported Monday.

The final agreement also formed a security committee to follow up the security part of the negotiating process.

Arafat chairs the security committee, which includes also PM Abbas in his capacity as Prime Minister, Mohammad Dahlan, the Palestine National Authority (PNA) Minister of State for Security Affairs, in addition to a number of military and security chiefs, Al-Ayyam added.

A third committee was also approved to deal with conflicting interpretations of the articles and clauses of the Basic Law, which was endorsed as the terms of reference to specify the powers of the prime minister, in cases where differences might occur in interpreting the presidential and premiership powers.

Arafat and Abbas agreed that they would refer any disputes over powers not spelled out in the law to a new committee of four men: Ahmad Qurei, Saeb Erekat, Akram Haniyeh, a political adviser to Arafat and editor of the newspaper Al Ayyam, and Ghassan el-Shaka’a, the New York Times said.

An unidentified Palestinian source quoted by Al-Ayyam said that Arafat - Abbas meeting was “serious, practical and frank,” and “allowed to confirm the understanding in vision and goals between Abu Ammar (Arafat) and Abu Mazen (Abbas), and to affirm their unified evaluation of the risks and the requirements” of the current stage of Palestinian national struggle.

The meeting as well doomed to failure any attempts to sow a rift between Arafat and Abbas.

The meeting “reconfirmed anew the distinguished historical relationship between the president and the prime minister,” and the president confirmed his support of the government of Abbas, whereas the premier confirmed “the role of President Arafat as the leader and the elected president” of the Palestinian people and rejected the attempts aiming at sowing a rift between them, the official said.

Erekat said that during the meeting, Abbas declared, "I fully support Arafat," and Arafat replied, "I fully support the government."

Ahmed Qurei, who helped mediate the dispute, told the New York Times in a telephone interview: "We discussed openly and frankly all the issues.”

"There were no serious differences,” he said. "But there was tension as a result of the situation on the ground and the Israeli practices.”

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