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Arabs try to mediate between Arafat, Abu Mazen

Hamas and Fatah have warned Abbas against heeding American and Israeli instructions to crack down on Palestinian fighters.
Arabs try to mediate between Arafat, Abu Mazen
Bassam al-Antari, Al Bawaba, 20-04-2003

A Palestinian official has told Al Bawaba that several Arab officials as well as Fatah Central Committee members, in addition to Fatah Council members, have been making efforts to bridge the gap between the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Abbas threatened to quit after Arafat had insisted that he drop the appointment of the former security chief in Gaza Strip, Mohammad Dahlan, as Minster of Internal Affairs in his new cabinet.

The dispute between the two had reached a deadlock Saturday night when Abu Mazen left the Fatah Central Committee meeting, threatening to quit his designation as the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

Close sources to Abu Mazen cited him as saying as he left the meeting, that the appointment of Dahlan is something he will insist on, thus not bowing to Arafat's pressure to drop him.

The Palestinian Legislative Council and Fatah member, Hatem Abdel Qader, told Al Bawaba earlier on Sunday in a telephone interview "the Fatah Central Committee decided to hold another emergency meeting with the hope that this time a compromise between the two will be achieved." Otherwise, Abdel Qader added, "they would have had to take the matter to the Legislative Council to resolve the issue, where a decision would be final."

Abdel Qader went on to add that "Egypt and Jordan, in addition to both Fatah's Central Committee and its Revolutionary Council have been mediating between the two parties over the past few days," however, he came short of describing Jordanian and Egyptian efforts as "pressure" on Arafat. "Arab mediators want Abu Mazen to have the powers set out to him and at the same time do not want to see Arafat politically sidelined."

The Palestinian official described the Arab attempts as "balanced compared to those of the US and Israel, who have backed Abu Mazen out of their willingness to sideline Arafat."

Abdel Qader gave slim chances for any new meeting to come up with successful results, should Abu Mazen agree to attend it. "The chance for a successful meeting is 50 percent, as the issue between the two has now become personal. The dispute between Arafat and Abu Mazen has now turned into a showdown for authority," he said.

"Arafat views any successful attempt on Abbas's part in appointing Dahlan as Minster of Internal Affairs as a political defeat, one which he [Arafat] can never accept," added Abel Qader.

Informed sources told Al Bawaba that Arafat is against appointing Dahlan to a security post, accusing him of forming political 'lobbys' in Gaza Strip for his own self-interest. This is in addition to Arafat's insistence that the new cabinet should include 13 ministers from the departing government [who are loyal to Arafat].

"Arafat is concerned that the post [Minister of Internal Affairs] has been created purposely for Dahlan in order to undermine Arafat's previous decision that the Minister of Interior should be a Fatah Central Committee member," said the sources, adding that the present Minster [of Interior] Hani al Hasan is not on good terms with Abu Mazen. It is noteworthy to add that Abu Mazen, as the new prime minister, has also nominated himself for the Minister of Interior job, thus leaving that post empty for the time being.

The source added that Abbas has heeded Arafat's request to return several members of his former government (which Abbas excluded from his initial proposal). These include newly nominated Yasser Abed Rabbo as Minister of Negotiations Affairs instead of Minister of Information (in Arafat's previous government), Maher al Masri as Minster of Commerce and Industry and Saeb Erekat as either Minister of Agriculture or Communications. Other ministers who Abbas included in his initial proposal (thus being carried forward from the old government) and were immediately accepted by Arafat were Hikmat Zaid for the Ministry of Agriculture, Entisar al Wazir as Minster of Social Affairs, Hisham Abdel Razeq as Minister of POW Affairs, Dimitri Abu Eitah as Minister of Tourism and Ghassan al Khatib as Minster of Labor.

Palestinian officials believe that there might still be a chance that Arafat and Abu Mazen agree should they meet alone without members of both the Fatah and PLO central committees. "So far, Arafat seems triumphant in his battle with Abu Mazen in view of the support he is receiving from the majority of the PLO's institutions, which are opposed to the list of nominations initially proposed by Abu Mazen," officials said.

Israeli press reports have indicated that the US has recently sent messages to Abu Mazen urging him to resist Arafat's pressures. "Americans assured Abu Mazen that his present mission [to form a cabinet to work with him as the first prime minister] is historical, and asserted that he should make use of the wide international support available," said the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

The same source also reiterated that the US administration is fully behind Abu Mazen's political stance and his willingness to take all the necessary action that will help bring the Palestinian uprising to a halt.

It should be mentioned that Wednesday (April 23) will be the deadline for Abu Mazen to submit his cabinet to the Legislative Council for a scheduled vote-of-confidence.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah have warned Abbas against heeding American and Israeli instructions to crack down on Palestinian fighters.

Spokespersons from both movement on Sunday warned that they would resist any efforts by Abbas's government to appease Israel by arresting fighters.

The two movements also warned Abbas against compromising Palestinian national rights, saying they would bring down any government that betrays the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

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