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Abbas accepts Palestinian PM post

Mahmoud Abbas waves during the March 8 session of the PLO's Central Council.
Mahmoud Abbas waves during the March 8 session of the PLO's Central Council.

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Palestinian legislators beat back an attempt by Yasser Arafat to water down the powers of the new prime minister's post. CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports. (March 19)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Veteran Palestine Liberation Organization leader Mahmoud Abbas accepted the post of Palestinian prime minister Wednesday, assuming day-to-day operations of the Palestinian Authority.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, met with authority President Yasser Arafat shortly after 9 p.m. (1 p.m. ET) and accepted the newly created post.

Under pressure from the international community to reform the Palestinian Authority, Arafat agreed to the creation of the post and to giving the prime minister significant powers.

Arafat nominated Abbas, the PLO's longtime secretary-general, when he proposed the post.

Abbas will have the authority to name a new Cabinet and to appoint the heads of all Palestinian Authority ministries.

Arafat will retain authority over security and will have the final say in negotiations with Israel. But as second in command of the PLO, Abbas also has been deeply involved in past negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to reopen peace negotiations with Arafat.

President Bush said last week he would send details of a so-called "road map for peace" to the Israelis and the Palestinians as soon as the prime minister's post was filled.

The United States developed the plan over the last several months in close cooperation with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

During a March 14 White House statement, Bush said the plan called for a "sequence of steps" to be taken by Israelis and Palestinians to settle their long-running conflict.

Bush said that as "progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end."

He said a Palestinian state must be "reformed," "peaceful" and "democratic" -- and must "abandon forever the use of terror."

Abbas has three weeks to propose a new Cabinet. That time frame can be extended for two more weeks if necessary.

Abbas' government is expected to then go before the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence.

If Abbas cannot form a government or if his government does not win a vote of confidence, Arafat would then name a new nominee for the post.

After the council proposed the duties of the prime minister, Arafat attempted to weaken them, demanding to have final say over all appointments.

When a group of reformers in the legislature refused, Arafat backed down, diminishing the virtually total control he has held over the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas had refused to say whether he would accept the post until the powers of the office were defined and enacted into law.

The process was concluded Tuesday when Arafat signed amendments to what is called the "basic law," which serves as the Palestinian constitution.

Abbas, who will be 68 this year, was one of the first Palestinian leaders to make contact with Israeli peace advocates.

According to the PLO, Abbas was a signatory of the 1993 Declaration of Principles that launched the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Two years later, in 1995, Abbas signed the Interim Peace Agreement, known as the Oslo Accords, with Israel.

Born in 1935 in the village of Safad in what is now northern Israel, Abbas left his hometown and moved with his family to Syria in 1948 when Israel was founded.

He earned a doctorate in history from Russia's Oriental College in Moscow. He holds a law degree from Damascus University, according to the PLO.

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