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Sources: Arafat approaching other PM candidates

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

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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.
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is starting to approach other candidates about becoming prime minister after failing to agree so far with Prime Minister-Designate Mahmoud Abbas on a list of new Cabinet members, Palestinian sources said Monday.

Arafat and Abbas are engaged in a power struggle, with the Palestinian Authority president seeking to retain as much control as he can, sources told CNN. Abbas -- commonly known as Abu Mazen -- has said he wants genuine authority in the job.

A senior U.S. State Department official said that Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke Monday with European Foreign policy chief Javier Solana and other officials in the region in recent days in an effort to break the deadlock between Arafat and Abbas.

Powell's message: It's "time for Arafat to back off," the official said.

Senior Palestinian officials unsuccessfully worked through Sunday night to come up with a compromise proposal, but they were pessimistic that a new government will be cobbled together and approved by a Wednesday deadline, sources said.

Abbas and Arafat disagree over whether former Gaza Preventative Security Chief Mohammed Dahlan will be included in the new government.

Abbas wants Dahlan to be in charge of security, but Arafat favors Hani el-Hasan, the interior minister and an Arafat loyalist, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

Israel Radio reported that Arafat and Abbas are considering a compromise government list that would not include Dahlan.

This proposal has 24 ministers, 14 of whom were part of the previous Cabinet, Israel Radio reported.

Israel Radio said Dahlan on Sunday offered to give up a seat in the Cabinet to help both men reach an agreement.

The report cited Palestinian sources as saying that Abbas won't hold more meetings with Arafat. Abbas, sources said, is ready to walk away from the job rather than give in to Arafat.

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

Arafat then nominated Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organization's longtime secretary-general.

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

Ra'anan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon, has said that the Israeli leader would invite Abbas to Jerusalem for talks once a new Palestinian government is sworn in.

Under Palestinian legal procedures, if a new government isn't formed by the deadline, Arafat would have to appoint someone else to come up with a Cabinet list.

The United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia have agreed to publish a Middle East "road map" for peace once a Palestinian prime minister and a new government take office.

According to Israel Radio, the United States, European Union and other Arab countries have been urging Arafat to show flexibility toward Abbas.

President Bush said in March he would send details of the road map to the Israelis and Palestinians as soon as the prime minister's office was filled.

Abbas 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, Abbas signed the Interim Peace Agreement, known as the Oslo Accords, with Israel.

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