Palestinian leader's new Cabinet approved

Embattled Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia finally won approval for his Cabinet on Thursday as MPs overwhelmingly endorsed his radically overhauled line-up, which is dominated by technocrats.

After he was twice forced to redraw his plans, 54 members of the legislative council voted in favour of the list and 10 voted against. There were four abstentions.

Among the most notable appointments was that of Nasser al-Qidwa, a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current representative to the United Nations, as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He replaces Nabil Shaath, who was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and will also serve as Minister of Information.

“I thank the members of the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] who have given us this overwhelming majority,” Qureia told reporters after the vote. “We are going to work with total cooperation with the PLC in the service of the people.

“It is an enormous responsibility that I am going to courageously assume, in spite of the difficulties.”

The Israeli government welcomed the new-look line-up, saying it offers the prospect of a brighter future.

“It’s an important step forward, a positive step towards a better future, but it’s only a first step,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom told reporters.

“I believe that this new elected Cabinet can be a very positive move if they take a different direction from the former government, that they will have a new policy which will encourage the Palestinian people to move towards a better understanding with Israel,” Shalom added.

Apart from Qureia, Shaath is the only MP to be appointed.

Mohammed Dahlan, the heavyweight former security minister, returns to high office as Minister f Civil Affairs, while Nasr Yussuf, a former overall head of the security services, was appointed Minister of the Interior.

Reformist Minister of Finance Salam Fayad, a favourite of the United States, retained his post as he is not a member of the legislative council.

Women’s Affairs Minister Zuhaira Kamal, Education Minister Nayim Abu al-Hummos and outgoing Labour Minister Ghassan Khatib (who becomes planning minister) are the only other survivors from Qureia’s previous team.

Qureia had been forced to overhaul his list of ministers after it became clear earlier this week that he would not get the approval of a majority of the deputies.

However, at a meeting on Wednesday night, the dominant Fatah faction’s leadership finally gave its seal of approval to the revised line-up, which meant that the vote was a formality.

Fatah sources said Arafat’s successor as Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, had urged the movement to end the impasse as the eyes of the international community were upon them.

Abbas is understood to have been in support of a radical overhaul of the government, having made institutional reform one of the chief platforms of his recent election campaign.

The approval of a new line-up marks the departure of a raft of ministers who owed their positions largely to the support of Arafat, who died in November.

A number of the ministers had been accused of corruption, and attempts by Qureia to keep them on board were the source of much of the backlash from MPs who have begun to discover their teeth since the death of Arafat.

Prominent independent MP Hanan Ashrawi said “the composition of the new Cabinet represents a major leap forwards”, adding that she hopes it will devote its energies to “reforming the Palestinian institutions and within society”.

Outgoing Negotiations Minister Saeb Erakat, who will remain in the frontline with his position as head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s negotiations committee, also spoke warmly about the new government team.

“Thirteen members of this Cabinet have doctorates and it also includes lawyers and engineers,” said Erakat, who declined an offer to stay on in the Cabinet.

Qureia said his new administration is determined to improve security in the Palestinian territories and work to eradicate the endemic poverty.

“I am going to pay particular attention to the question of the settlements, the occupation and the wall [Israel’s West Bank barrier] as well as ensure the security of the citizens and improve their way of life.”—Sapa-AFP

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