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Arafat loyalists lose out in compromise deal for Palestinian Cabinet

JERUSALEM—Rebellious Palestinian legislators on Wednesday pushed more Yasser Arafat loyalists out of the Cabinet in a compromise struck after the intervention of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The political struggle leading to the deal reflected the restiveness and growing power of the younger guard of legislators. They've long been angry over the unwillingness of leaders who returned from exile with Arafat more than a decade ago to share power with the homegrown generation of Palestinian politicians.

With an election looming in July, legislators are also anxious to show a commitment to a financial and political overhaul of the Palestinian Authority, which has been plagued with corruption. They're particularly worried about the success of the Islamic militant group Hamas in recent local elections, fearing that Hamas candidates may put in a strong showing in July's election as well.

Under the agreement reached at a closed-door meeting between Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and legislators from the dominant Fatah political faction, only two of the old guard—Qureia and the man he wants for his deputy, Nabil Sha'ath, will remain in the 22-member Cabinet to be ratified by the full Palestinian legislative council Thursday afternoon.

A third official whom Qureia had sought to include, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, was axed in the compromise.

"I think we've finally solved this problem," said Mohammed al-Hourani, a lawmaker from the West Bank city of Hebron and one of more than 60 Fatah legislators who attended the meeting. "Mr. Qureia offered us a list of acceptable names."

The deal followed days of haggling after Qureia on Monday proposed a Cabinet that included only four new faces. Legislators on Tuesday rejected a second proposed Cabinet list and sought to push Qureia from the post of prime minister as well.

Al-Hourani credited Abbas with helping defuse the crisis by bringing both sides together and persuading them not to shatter Fatah unity. Abbas won a decisive electoral victory as Palestinian leader in January.

As members of the legislative council, Qureia and Sha'ath, by law, will have to resign from the Cabinet at least two months before July's elections, another factor that quelled the rebellion among the legislators.

Many details of the original Cabinet proposal and the deal struck Wednesday remain murky.

Erekat, a familiar spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, couldn't immediately be reached for comment, although earlier Wednesday he said he did not want to be a minister.

Qureia, who became prime minister in September 2003 under Arafat, has often been criticized for failing to move forward with a program of financial and political reform. The Palestinian Authority is scheduled to travel to London in early March to attend an international conference on reforms, a conference Qureia had urged officials to boycott.

Gaza Strip legislator Ziad Abu Amr said the revolt was motivated by concern over voter apathy that propelled Hamas into power during municipal elections in recent months.

"If this man (Qureia) is back in the Cabinet, with his style of conduct, he will prove to be a great liability for Fatah in the upcoming elections," Abu Amr said. "I don't think he can do much and I don't think he can deliver."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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