New generation fills Abbas cabinet as Arafat's men exit

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The Independent Online

A new Palestinian cabinet with a significant injection of younger figures from outside frontline politics was finally approved by parliamentarians after President Mahmoud Abbas had intervened to halt a three-day political crisis.

Several politicians hailed yesterday's decision as heralding a new era for the Palestinian Authority, long criticised by the Palestinian public for being inefficient and tainted by corruption. Mr Abbas said: "They are young and professional, and I think they are capable of carrying out their jobs. We have chosen them very carefully."

The Palestinian Legislative Council voted by 54 to 12 to back a new list of ministers after three days of infighting which weakened the position of Ahmad Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister, and - for now - strengthened that of Mr Abbas.

Although Mr Abbas's intervention saved his Prime Minister in the short term there was speculation that Mr Qureia could lose his post in July in the wake of a crisis which began when PLC members demonstrated a new independence by revolting against his proposals. Opponents argued that his planned cabinet contained too many Arafat-era ministers.

The dispute, which deepened when Mr Qureia found he also could not secure backing for a dramatically different second list, had threatened to undermine next week's international conference in London to bolster the PA.

Among the most notable appointments was that of Nasser Yousef, the new Interior Minister who as a security chief in the late Nineties played a prominent part in clamping down on the armed factions and subsequently quarrelled openly with Yasser Arafat. He was joined in the new cabinet by Mohammed Dahlan, the new Civil Affairs Minister who has re-emerged as an Abbas ally and is viewed favourably by US policymakers.

Salaam Fayed, the widely respected Finance Minister, retains his post while the previous Justice Minister, Nahed ar-Rayyes, who had attracted criticism at home and abroad, has been replaced. Opinion was nevertheless divided over how far the new cabinet represented a radical break with the past.

Hanan Ashrawi, a PLC member who had been among those most strongly opposed to Mr Qureia's original choices, declared: "It's a turning point in the rationale, the approach and the methodology of forming cabinets, in going beyond political patronage ... and to look for people who can deliver."

The new cabinet is significantly more welcome to Mr Abbas than Mr Qureia's original proposals, but it still reflects a compromise between competing interests in Fatah which, while divided, continues to dominate the PA. The list was approved by Fatah on Wednesday night after Mr Abbas warned them that the world was watching the unfolding crisis.

Nabil Shaath, a long-standing Fatah figure who becomes Deputy Prime Minister, was, with Mr Qureia, exempted from a new "separation of powers" precluding PLC members from ministerial office. He is replaced as Foreign Minister by Nasser al-Kidwa, the UN envoy and Yasser Arafat's nephew. While Saeb Erekat, another Fatah PLC member, leaves the cabinet, he will retain a key negotiating post.