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Arafat chooses Palestinian prime minister

Arafat proposes his No.2 for new post

From Sausan Ghosheh

Yasser Arafat, left, and Mahmoud Abbas at a funeral in the West Bank town of Ramallah in June 2002.

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has chosen the Palestinian Liberation Organization's second-in-command, Mahmoud Abbas, to be the first Palestinian prime minister, a senior Palestinian official said.

The Palestinian Legislative Council is expected to meet Monday to outline duties and responsibilities for the prime ministerial position and decide whether to approve Abbas' selection.

Upon being approved and after reviewing his expected duties, Abbas will decide if he wants to accept the post.

Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is a member of Fateh, Arafat's political party -- the largest among Palestinians.

Mahmoud Abbas was Arafat's chief lieutenant and is secretary-general of the PLO's executive committee. A veteran of peace negotiations, he was one of the key players in the secret talks that led to the 1993 Oslo accords and is the former PLO ambassador to Moscow.

Abbas met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in Washington in 2001 while he was in the United States for medical treatment.

When Arafat announced he was creating the post of prime minister last month, following several months of intense international pressure, the Bush administration warmly welcomed the move.

"We hope this is a first serious step towards that critical objective," a State Department official said following the announcement. "The next step is the creation of a sound constitutional, legal basis for an effective prime minister position."

The Palestinian Authority president has long resisted appointing a prime minister, concerned it could weaken him politically.

Ha'aretz: Israelis will let most members travel to vote

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, quoting an unnamed source in Jerusalem, reported Thursday that the Palestinian Legislative Council would meet in Ramallah to vote on the prime minister's post Saturday and that Israel will allow 210 of the 227 members Palestinian Central Council and Palestinian Legislative Council to attend the meeting.

Israeli forces have been enforcing severe travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza following Wednesday's Haifa suicide bombing that killed 15 people.

The Palestinian Central Council has 143 members, and the Palestinian Legislative Council 84. Most council members are not located in Ramallah, and need Israeli permits to reach the city from other cities in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab countries.

Ha'aretz, quoting the source, said the Palestinian Authority had already been informed of the decision. The 17 other members of the councils will not be allowed to travel due to suspicions in the Israeli defense establishment that they are involved in terrorist activity.

Ha'aretz sources said that Israel issued the travel permits as it has a vested interest in the election of a Palestinian prime minister, and also wants to avoid any decision that would hinder the United States as it prepares to launch an attack on Iraq.

The Palestinian legislature is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss changing the bylaws necessary to create the new post.

The central council is a midlevel decision-making body of the PLO. It has no formal authority on the issue of creating the post of prime minister, but its recommendation would carry great moral weight since the PLO represents all Palestinians, including those in exile.

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