CBSN

New Palestinian PM Pick: Yes, But

Palestinian Parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia, known as Abu Ala, speaks at his home in the West Bank town of Abu Dis during an interview with the Associated Press, Sept. 13, 2002.
AP
Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Qureia, tapped as the new prime minister, said Monday he will only accept the job if Washington guarantees Israeli compliance with a U.S.-backed peace plan, including a halt to military strikes.

Qureia told The Associated Press that he does not want to set himself up for failure, an apparent reference to outgoing Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned over the weekend after just four months in office that were marred by wrangling with veteran leader Yasser Arafat.

However, sources close to Qureia said he has already agreed in principle to take the job, and that his formal acceptance is expected to be announced in the coming days. Qureia was to meet with Arafat on Monday evening.

Explosions were heard in the Israeli port city of Haifa Monday, but police said they were the result of a gas leak.

In a meeting Sunday, the ruling Fatah party decided that the new government should be formed quickly, in part to prevent a prolonged vacuum in which Israel might be tempted to take action against Arafat, Palestinian officials said. After Abbas' resignation, there had been growing calls, including by Israeli Cabinet ministers, to expel Arafat.

Qureia is seen in Israel as a moderate who's played a leading role in peace talks, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger, but Israel has not commented on his appointment.

Right wing Israeli legislator Yuval Shteinitz said Qureia is part of a Palestinian regime whose policy is "to enable terrorist organizations to draft people, to open offices, to smuggle weapons."

Shteinitz said Qureia is just a rubber stamp for Yasser Arafat's ongoing war of terror against Israel, and Israel has said it won't deal with a government controlled by Arafat.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Secretary of State Colin Powell in a phone call that the appointment of Qureia will not lead to progress on the peace plan, as long as Arafat pulls the strings, Israel Radio said. Israeli officials have said privately they would have liked to see Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad in the job of prime minister.

Arafat asked Qureia — a moderate who helped cobble together the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the PLO — to form a new government Sunday shortly after his nomination was confirmed by top officials in Fatah and the PLO, said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Arafat.

Qureia said Monday that he wants to improve the lives of Palestinians who have largely been confined to their communities by a network of Israeli military barriers during the past three years of fighting. "I want to see what kind of change on the ground the Israelis will make, what kind of support from the United States in this regard (I will get)," he said.

Qureia also said he would not be able to govern without Arafat's support, and said Israel must change its approach to Arafat. Israel and the United States want to sideline Arafat, who has been confined to his West Bank headquarters by Israeli sieges and threats.

Qureia said he wants real support from the international community, "practical, not by words," echoing complaints by Abbas who said, in listing the reasons for his resignation, that the United States has not done enough to enforce Israeli compliance with the peace plan.

"I don't want to see more military checkpoints. I don't want to see assassination of Palestinians. I don't want to see the demolishing of houses," Qureia said, adding that he would try to negotiate a cease-fire with Israel.

Asked whether he would only accept the post if his demands were met, he said: "Yes, these are my conditions from all the parties who are concerned about the peace process."

Earlier Monday, Qureia met with Jeff Feldman, the acting U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. He was also to hold talks later in the day with Andrei Vdovin, the Russian envoy to the Middle East.

Israeli helicopters, meanwhile, launched a missile strike on a Gaza Strip house that the army said was being used by the militant group Hamas to store weapons, wounding 11 people, including three children, hospital officials said. The army said it was targeting explosives and firearms stored there.

Also in Gaza, Israeli soldiers killed an armed Palestinian who was apparently planning to infiltrate a Jewish settlement, Col. Yossi Haddad said. The Palestinian — dressed in Israeli army fatigues and armed with a sub-machinegun, ammunition clips and hand grenades — fired back at the soldiers who were manning an outpost, Haddad said, adding that no Israeli troops were injured.

The violence came after a day of intensive backroom politics set off by Abbas' resignation on Saturday. Abbas said he was stepping down after Arafat refused to grant him more power over the Palestinian security services, capping four months of wrangling between the two since Abbas was appointed under U.S. and Israeli pressure.

Abbas' departure dealt a serious blow to the U.S.-backed "road map" plan for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005. But Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said the "peace process did not die and the principles (of the road map) we had agreed upon are acceptable to everybody."

Qureia has long been the No. 3 leader in Fatah, after Arafat and Abbas. Seen as a moderate and a pragmatist, he was a key player in the secret talks that led to the 1993 Oslo accords, which led to Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. He also led the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel in the following years.

The 65-year-old politician is considered one of the few Palestinians who have credibility with Israel but also count on the important support of Arafat.

Powell said any Palestinian prime minister must have clear control over security forces and use them to crack down on militant groups. "That person has to have political authority and the determination to go after terrorism," Powell said on ABC's "This Week."

Also Monday, a report released by the human rights group Amnesty International charged that Israeli military checkpoints, curfews and a new fence sealing off large parts of the West Bank all violate Palestinians' human rights.

Israeli officials declined to comment until they review the report. But Israel says the security fence and other restrictions on Palestinian movement are necessary to prevent further attacks. Suicide attacks have killed 397 Israelis in the past three years.