Palestinian prime minister's future on the line

Beleaguered Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia’s future was on the line Wednesday as he shied away from a vote in Parliament on his prospective Cabinet, which has already begun to unravel.

Barely an hour before MPs were to begin a session to vote on his ministerial team, a legislative council spokesperson announced that the meeting was off.

The Speaker of Parliament, Rawhi Fattuh, later announced that the vote will take place either on Thursday or Saturday.

“Our brother Abu Alaa will present the government which he is forming to the Parliament tomorrow or else on Saturday,” he told reporters.

Parliamentary sources attributed the delay to Qureia’s failure so far to persuade a majority of the council’s 83 MPs to back his list of ministers that has already been radically rewritten.

Qureia was forced on Tuesday to scrap his original line-up, which had included 15 MPs, and has come up instead with a radically different list dominated by technocrats and featuring only two legislators.

Before the latest postponement, it was clear that Qureia would have his work cut out to stave off a revolt in the ranks of Parliament, with some MPs predicting he may have to stand down.

Even though Qureia has now dumped a host of long-serving ministers from the era of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, some MPs still believe that some of his choices are tainted by corruption.

“The situation is very hard, not only for Abu Alaa, but for all of us,” said Jamal Shaati, a Fatah MP from the northern West Bank town of Jenin. “Abu Alaa speaks about a technocratic government, but the list still has some names who in the past have been accused of corruption.”

Other Fatah sources predicted Qureia would likely stand down if he felt that he was not going to win a majority rather than face the humiliation of defeat on the floor of the legislative council where he used to serve as speaker.

The independent MP Jalal al-Mussadar called for Qureia to be replaced after his failure to gain approval for his original line-up during an aborted session of Parliament in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Monday.

“The withdrawal of his original government represents a failure to obtain the confidence of the legislative council and the Basic Law stipulates that a new prime minister should be chosen in such a situation,” he said.

“The majority [of MPs] is in favour of a governnment of technocrats but the problem is with its leader,” added Freih Abu Medein, a Fatah MP and former minister of justice.

The two MPs Qureia wants to keep on in government are Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, who is in line to be promoted to deputy prime minister.

But Erakat threw another a spanner in the works on Wednesday when he told reproters that he has declined the offer to be part of the line-up.

“I have excused myself as I am an MP and this government should not include MPs. There should be no exceptions,” he said.

Even Shaath’s appointment now looks unlikely with Fatah sources saying that the leadership decided on Wednesday that no MP should be in the Cabinet.

If Qureia can muster a majority, reformist Finance Minister Salam Fayad will keep his job, as he is not an MP.

The current Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Nasser al-Qidwa, has been slated to become foreign minister, while the former overall head of security, Nasr Yussuf, should be made interior minister.

The former security minister and one-time head of preventive security in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Dahlan, is Qureia’s choice as civil affairs minister.

If Qureia is forced to stand down, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas will have to find a new man to lead his government within the next two weeks, according to the terms of the Basic Law or mini Constitution.

Abbas, who was elected as Arafat’s successor last month, is understood to have been in favour of a radical overhaul of government.—Sapa-AFP

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