April 14, 2003
JERUSALEM -- The incoming Palestinian prime minister completed a new Cabinet on Sunday in line with a leadership overhaul the United States sought, keeping the key post of security czar for himself and appointing several professionals and reformers.
Once the Cabinet of Mahmoud Abbas is approved by the Palestinian parliament, possibly this week, President Bush is expected to unveil a "road map" to Palestinian statehood, starting the clock ticking on the three-year plan.
Israel's willingness to go along with the plan remains unclear, although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did stake out a relatively moderate position in an interview published Sunday.
Sharon reiterated that he has many reservations about the plan, but also believes the Iraq war has created a chance for reaching a peace deal sooner. Previously, he advocated an interim deal, saying a final treaty must be delayed for years because of gaps in positions.
Sharon told the Israeli daily Haaretz Palestinian statehood is inevitable and suggested some Jewish settlements may be dismantled.
"I do not think we have to rule over another people and run their lives. I do not think that we have the strength for that," Sharon said, adding Israel's reoccupation of Palestinian towns is temporary.
Sharon's top aide, Dov Weisglass, is presenting Israel's concerns about the three-stage "road map" to U.S. officials in Washington this week. The main issue appears to be Israel's demand that the obligations of each stage should be fulfilled before the sides move on to the next one.
The Palestinians want the sides to adhere to a strict timetable and accuse Sharon of trying to scuttle the plan by raising new demands.
Israeli critics also have long accused the career hawk of misleading the world by hinting at moderate intentions while cracking down on the Palestinians and expanding Jewish settlements.
With the fighting in Iraq winding down, the United States is expected to resume efforts to end the 30 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Abbas was to have presented his Cabinet list later Sunday to the ruling party, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, whose backing he needs. However, the meeting was called off at short notice.
The Cabinet list was provided to the Associated Press by three senior Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Abbas named several top Fatah officials to his Cabinet to ensure support, but was expected to encounter resistance because of his refusal to keep Interior Minister Hani al-Hassan, another senior Fatah member.
Abbas, who has had personal differences with al-Hassan, kept the Interior Ministry for himself, meaning he will oversee the security forces and an expected crackdown on Palestinian militants, a prerequisite for moving forward in peace talks with Israel.
Abbas also named Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, as state minister for interior affairs, suggesting Dahlan will play a key role in security matters. Both men have criticized attacks on Israelis and have the support of the international community.
Only two ministers from the outgoing Cabinet, Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Education Minister Naim Abul Hummus, remained in the same posts.
Fayad, a former senior International Monetary Fund official, is widely seen as having done a credible job of putting the murky Palestinian money transactions in order.