RAMALLAH (West Bank): Palestinian premier-designate Mahmoud Abbas stormed out of Cabinet talks on Saturday and threatened to quit after President Yasser Arafat blocked his choice for a key ministerial post, political sources said.
Abbas's walkout brought a simmering dispute over the makeup of a Palestinian reform Cabinet to a head and could hold up US plans to unveil a “roadmap” plan for peace between Palestinians and Israel after two-and-a-half-years of fighting.
Washington has insisted that Abbas, a moderate who has denounced violence by Palestinian militants as counterproductive to Palestinian statehood goals, be able to govern without interference from Arafat whom it wants sidelined.
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, sparred with Arafat during a meeting of the central committee of the president's Fatah movement called to discuss the composition of the new Cabinet which is to be presented to parliament by midweek, two weeks after the original deadline.
“Abu Mazen has threatened to resign,” a senior Palestinian political source said, because of Arafat's insistence that Hani al-Hassan, an old loyalist of the president, continue to head the interior ministry which runs Palestinian security services.
Israel says the murky security organs have failed to rein in militants and even supported their attacks on Israelis during the uprising which began in Sept 2000. The violence started after US-brokered talks on a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip broke down.
Abbas – as well as the United States –is believed to want Mohammed Dahlan for the job. Dahlan was the Palestinian security chief in Gaza before having a falling-out with Arafat, and is seen as an advocate of democratic reforms.
The roadmap envisions a raft of measures, including a halt to Palestinian violence and an end to Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza, paving the way for Palestinian statehood in the two territories by 2005. – Reuters