Qureia's government confirmed

New Palestinian premier calls for truce with Israel, end of armed uprising

November 13, 2003|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Ending more than two months of wrangling, Palestinian legislators endorsed Ahmed Qureia yesterday as their new prime minister after he called for a cease-fire with Israel and for an end to armed militants ruling Palestinian cities and villages.

Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, called on Israelis "to open a new page in our relations to achieve the just peace that we aspire for. ... Let's help each other stop this cycle of hell." He urged the Palestinian people and armed groups "to stop all kinds of mutual violence."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat endorsed an end to the bloodshed, a plea that he has made before, saying it is time to stop "this destructive war."

Arafat nominated Qureia in September after the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who quit in part because of a dispute over Arafat's insistence on retaining significant authority.

Qureia and Arafat squabbled for weeks over the membership of the new, permanent Cabinet, particularly the interior minister, who was to oversee the many Palestinian security forces. Qureia eventually conceded control of the police to a security council controlled by Arafat. That has disappointed U.S. and Israeli officials, who wanted to consolidate the security forces under the prime minister and to sideline Arafat.

Israeli leaders have denigrated Qureia as a puppet for Arafat but have indicated in recent days that they would give him a chance.

Over the past month, mid-level officials on both sides have prepared for a possible meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Qureia, and the Israeli army is preparing a series of gestures such as easing checkpoint restrictions in order to bolster the new Palestinian government.

Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel is prepared to give Qureia a "grace period" to halt suicide bombings and other attacks by militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Peled said Israel would be satisfied with a "significant decrease" in attacks and that, in return for a cease-fire by militant groups, the army would halt offensive action.

"We don't care how [Qureia] goes about it, as long as he gets it done," Peled said. "But it has to be done quickly and as a first step toward more encompassing action." Noting that Israel was blamed for not making greater concessions in the past, Peled said that this time, "we will be more generous in return for serious action on his part."

In his speech to legislators, Qureia praised "the unique heroic resistance to the occupation, oppression and killing" - without condoning suicide bombings - paid homage to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, and dismissed critics who consider armed Palestinian fighters to be terrorists.

But Qureia, who is well known to Israelis as one of the Palestinians who helped negotiate the Oslo peace accords in 1993, also criticized Palestinian tactics.

Qureia said, "We must review our methods, assess our choices and positions, redress our weaknesses, and overcome the state of chaos and lack of planning in addition to redressing our bad evaluation and wrong track."

The new prime minister pleaded with Palestinians to forgo the use of weapons, at the risk of undermining Palestinian rule. He stopped short of saying that he would dismantle armed groups but hinted that he would crack down under the guise of restoring law and order.

"It is not acceptable to any of us to see the chaos of weapons and shelling among the public, the chaos of armed demonstrations and masked persons in show of power, the chaos of terrorizing the citizens to the point of launching threats of killing and kidnapping," Qureia said.

He then directed his remarks to the Israeli public.

"I repeat my words to you, Israelis. I extend my hand to you with sincerity in order to begin serious and prompt actions for a mutual cease-fire to halt the bloodshed and stop the violence, so that our security and yours will be respected and our rights and dignity of our people will be respected."

Although the new government was approved by a vote of 46-13, many Palestinian legislators criticized the dominance of old guard members of Arafat's Fatah faction who seem unlikely to institute sweeping reforms.

Hanan Ashrawi, who represents East Jerusalem and is a former spokeswoman for the Arab League, complained that Palestinian leaders wasted two months with infighting while Israelis continued to launch military offensives, expand Jewish settlements and build a fence that is taking Palestinian land in the West Bank.

"The Israelis are creating facts on the ground and people are getting killed while we are fighting over politics," Ashrawi said. "It is more than frustrating, and I think that the Palestinian people are fed up with it. This government is more of the same. We are in a politically anemic situation."

Arafat, speaking for half an hour, addressed himself to Israelis, assuring them that he is interested in securing a peace deal.

"We have already recognized the state of Israel and we are not going to retreat," Arafat said. "It is high time for us and you to come out of this cycle. This destructive war will never provide you with security, nor will it provide us with security as well. It is enough."

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