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Palestinian Prime Minister Quits in Blow to U.S. Peace Plan
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 6, 2003; 6:15 AM
RAMLLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat has accepted the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official said Saturday.
Arafat accepted the resignation shortly after Abbas submitted a letter of resignation, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Abbas sent his resignation to Arafat in a letter delivered by senior Palestinian officials, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Abbas' resignation leaves Israel and the United States without a Palestinian negotiating partner, at least temporarily. Both nations have said they will not do business with Arafat, whom they accuse of fomenting terrorism and consider an obstacle to peacemaking.
Abbas has been frustrated by the constant wrangling with Arafat, his aides said. He was also hurt by the near-collapse of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan as militants and Israeli forces continued to attack each other.
The prime minister, on the job just four months, was to have met with legislators in a closed-door session Saturday to discuss the crisis with Arafat. It was not clear whether he would still attend the session.
Even if he hadn't resigned, Abbas might have been forced out. He faced a vote of confidence in parliament in the coming days, and there was growing dissatisfaction in parliament with his performance and his difficulties with Arafat.
Arafat's international standing could further be weakened if he is seen as having engineered Abbas' ouster.
Abbas and Arafat had been at odds ever since Arafat appointed the prime minister under intense international pressure in April. The latest standoff was over control of the security forces. Abbas, backed by the United States, demanded command over all men under arms, but Arafat refused to relinquish control over four of the eight security branches.
Abbas said he will not clamp down on militants, as required by the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan. However, being in control of all the security forces would give him greater authority in renewed negotiations with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and renegades from his own Fatah movement.
Earlier this week, Abbas told parliament it must either back him or strip him of his post, saying he is not clinging to the job and would just as soon step down.
Israel's defense minister has threatened to expel Arafat. Israel's government has considered this idea in the past, but has been held back by U.S. opposition and by warnings of its security chiefs that Arafat could do more harm abroad than isolated at his West Bank headquarters.
However, the threshold for taking action against Arafat could be lowered by Abbas' departure.
(PROFILE (COUNTRY:Israel; ISOCOUNTRY3:ISR; UNTOP:142; UN2ND:145; APGROUP:MiddleEast; APGROUP:Asia;) (COUNTRY:West Bank; ISOCOUNTRY3:PSE; UNTOP:142; UN2ND:145; APGROUP:MiddleEast; APGROUP:Asia;) (COUNTRY:United States; ISOCOUNTRY3:USA; UNTOP:021; APGROUP:NorthAmerica;) )