Monday 10 June 2002

Pressured Arafat announces government reforms

10 June 2002

By Matthew Kalman, USA TODAY

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority announced Sunday that it had revamped its Cabinet, an apparent response to international pressure on Yasser Arafat to institute reforms that could help stop violence in the region. The United States, the European Union and Israel have demanded that Arafat restructure the Palestinian Authority, which has been accused of corruption and failing to stop attacks that have killed 280 Israelis this year.

After meeting Saturday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Camp David, Md., President Bush said, "If the Palestinian people have a government that is transparent and open and willing to serve the people, Israel will be better off, Egypt will be better off, America will be better off, and we're more likely to achieve peace."

Mubarak said he hoped to persuade Bush to support the declaration of a Palestinian state early next year, even if its borders have not been decided.

Bush responded, "We're not ready to lay down a specific calendar."

Sunday's announcement of reforms in the Palestinian Cabinet came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington. He meets with Bush today. In an opinion piece Sunday in The New York Times, he repeated that Israel was prepared to resume negotiations if Palestinian attacks stop. He also said it could be years before the Israelis and the Palestinians reach a final peace deal.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Cabinet will be cut from 31 to 21. He also said presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in January and municipal elections this fall.

Other changes announced Sunday:

- Arafat appointed Salem Fayad minister of finance. Fayad, 50, has worked in Jerusalem for the International Monetary Fund and was regional director of the Arab Bank. He will try to persuade donors that the Palestinian Authority isn't using aid money to finance terrorism.
- The new interior minister is Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, 73, a former guerrilla commander. He has been asked to control rival security chiefs and turn their forces and militias into a streamlined anti-terror police as CIA Director George Tenet demanded last week. Yehiyeh will report to Arafat, who remains commander in chief of security forces.

Some Palestinian officials rejected the announced reforms.

"This is not a change, this is simply a Cabinet reshuffle," said Ziyad Abu Amer, a Palestinian legislator and leader of Arafat's Fatah group in Gaza. "We were looking forward to the formation of a Cabinet whose members are mostly new faces."

Hamas spokesman Abdel Azziz Rantissi also criticized the reform plan. "The Palestinian Authority leadership is corrupt and therefore has to be changed," he said.

Also Sunday:

- Palestinian police arrested Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Abdullah Shami, whose group took responsibility for a suicide attack last week in which 17 Israelis died. Shami, arrested in Gaza City, has been arrested and released by the Authority several times.
- Funerals were held for three Israelis killed Saturday in a Palestinian attack on a West Bank settlement. Seven Palestinians were killed over the weekend while carrying out or attempting to carry out attacks.