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Parliament Rubberstamps New Palestinian Government

Parliament Rubberstamps New Palestinian Government

Arafat extends Olive Branch to Israelis

Can The New Cabinet Broker Peace With Israel?

The Palestinian Parliament narrowly approved a new government headed by the second Palestine National Authority (PNA) Prime Minister, Ahmad Qurei, as President Yasser Arafat yet again extended an olive branch to Israel.

Forty-eight of 84 lawmakers rubber-stamped the new 26-member strong government, while thirteen opposed it and five abstained.

The session held at Arafat’s compound, battered by repeated Israeli shelling, was seen by many parliament members as a relief following a wrangling between Qurei, known by his nom de guerre Abu Ala, and Arafat over who should hold the post of interior minister.

Abu Ala’s choice of General Nasr Yousef was rejected by the veteran Palestinian leader. Instead, Hakam Balawi, a former ambassador, was chosen for the key position.

Speaking before the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on Wednesday, Arafat extended an olive branch to Israel by reiterating its right to live in peace and security alongside an independent Palestinian state.

“We do not deny the right of the Israeli people to live in security side by side with the Palestinian people also living in their own independent state,” he said.

Addressing the Israeli people, he delivered an unequivocal message of peace.

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“The time has come for us to get out of this whirlpool of blood that will not bring a safe, just peace to you or us,” said the 74-year-old leader.

The new Palestinian premier used a similar conciliatory tone in his speech.

“I extend my hand to you with sincerity in order to begin serious and prompt action for a mutual ceasefire to halt the bloodshed and stop violence,” he said.

Qurei stressed that the top priority on his new government’s agenda was to reach a bilateral
cease-fire with Israel and to resuscitate the morbid peace process.

Accordingly, he urged the “Quartet” of US, UN, EU and Russian diplomats to pressure Israel into withdrawing its occupying troops from the Palestinian territories and sitting down at the negotiations table to give the “roadmap” peace process a chance.

The US-endorsed “roadmap”, which has been shelved by Israel, calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

In spite of the cantonisation of the Palestinian territories, and the Israeli obstacles hampering
Palestinians’ movement, the new PM expressed hope that June 2004 would see the holding presidential, legislative as well as municipal elections.

Moreover, Abu Ala called for the uniting of all Palestinian security forces under the umbrella of the newly-established National Security Council, which was created to retain overall security control.

The council is headed by Arafat and includes Abu Ala and the finance minister Salam Fayyadh as members.

The new interior minister Hakam Balawi, who normally would have had responsibility for overall security, will only be in charge of police, civil defense and preventative security.

Israel and the US, who have been trying to sideline Arafat for months, were disappointed at the outcome but said they would give the new Qurei-led government a chance.

According to Palestinian and Israeli sources, contacts are already underway to prepare a meeting between Qurei and Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as early as next week.

The Palestinian Prime Minister said that his meeting with his Israeli counterpart was incumbent upon Sharon taking steps to revive the peace process.

Prior to this government, Qurei was heading a 36-day-old emergency cabinet after Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) resigned, following a similar wrangling with Arafat over the responsibilities of the interior minister.

Abu Ala however dismissed that as being the reason for Abu Mazen’s failure and instead blamed it on Israel’s policies of carrying out executions of Palestinian resistance fighters and building a unilateral separation wall that will, upon completion, sever Palestinian land into non-contiguous ghettos.

Following the five-hour long PLC session, all 26 members of the new cabinet took their oath of office before Arafat at his West Bank compound.

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