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Abu Mazen is Palestinian prime minister-designate

Arafat takes Egyptian-brokered deal

The two leaders met at Arafat's Ramallah compound after the deal was struck.
The two leaders met at Arafat's Ramallah compound after the deal was struck.

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CNN's Kelly Wallace reports on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's acceptance of Abu Mazen as prime minister.
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Now that an agreement has been reached naming a Palestinian prime minister, the U.S. is gearing up to reveal its 'road map' for Mideast peace. CNN's John King reports.
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Mahmoud Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, faces pressure from Yasser Arafat. CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports.
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accepted an Egyptian-brokered deal Wednesday, allowing Abu Mazen to assume the post of Palestinian prime minister, a post he had said he would not accept without clear powers.

Abu Mazen called for a special session of the 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council to confirm a new Cabinet within a week. He promised to create a government that will improve the lives of Palestinians and seek an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

"I am very pleased that my Cabinet has received the support of President Arafat," Abu Mazen said in a written statement. "The agreement on the Cabinet marks a victory for the Palestinian people, as it demonstrates our commitment to democracy, even as we live under Israeli occupation."

Arafat and Abu Mazen reached the agreement together, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. He said Arafat has notified Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian legislature, of his acceptance of Abu Mazen's slate of Cabinet ministers.

But one Palestinian Legislative Council member, who did not want to be identified, warned Abu Mazen will need to win the support of the parliament. "There are a lot of people who don't like Abu Mazen," the member said. "They do not like his policies."

Abu Mazen will not only be prime minister but will assume the post of interior minister as well, the sources said, something Arafat had also opposed.

Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was able to broker the deal ending the power struggle between Arafat and Abu Mazen.

Palestinian sources indicated Abu Mazen got most of what he wanted. Mohammed Dahlan, the former Gaza security chief, will be minister of state for security, the sources said, something Arafat had resisted.

The sources said that in addition to the dispute over Dahlan as security chief, Arafat had sharply disagreed with Abu Mazen's plan to crack down on the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement that has claimed responsibility for a string of suicide bombings in Israel.

Arafat feared a civil war if Abu Mazen moved against the Al Aqsa and other militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sources said.

Sources told CNN the dispute also involved Arafat's desire to retain as much control over the Palestinian Authority as he could.

'Road map' for peace appears closer

At stake in the power struggle was the future leadership of the Palestinian people, the resumption of peace talks with Israel and the prospects for a Palestinian state.

The United States has said it will present a "road map" for peace, but only after there is a prime minister with real powers in place. That map could be released once Abu Mazen's government is confirmed by the Palestinian parliament.

"We'll be moving forward then to sit down with the parties, start talking about how to implement the road map that's released to the parties, and we'll do the appropriate publicity for that," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.

Mustafa Barghouti -- spokesman for the Palestinian National Initiative, a coalition for democratic change in the West Bank and Gaza -- told CNN the "big difficulty has been overcome," and it is time to see how Israel will respond.

"The big question now is whether there will be pressure on Israel to abide by its duty in accordance with this road map," he said. "Will conditions be provided so that those that are involved in military resistance will feel that they should stop it and give peace a chance? ... This will all depend on whether Israel is going to implement what it should to implement this road map."

Israeli reaction to the news of the Palestinian agreement was cautious.

Ehud Olmert, a member of the Israeli Cabinet and one of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's closest advisers, said, "One should judge the deeds and not the declarations. We have to wait and see if the new Cabinet will, in fact, be sworn in and how it will act, taking into account Arafat's staunch resistance to it and his capacity to undermine any process of reform."

Natan Sharansky, another Israeli Cabinet minister, said the "real test" now is if Abu Mazen can stop Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

"If he will succeed, if terror will be stopped, then no doubt the road to peace will be open," Sharansky said.

There is currently no Israeli-Palestinian peace process in place. Sharon has said he will not negotiate with Arafat. Diplomatic sources have said they hope that with Abu Mazen as prime minister, there will be a possibility for progress on the Bush road map for peace.

Under the law that established the post of prime minister, Arafat will retain final say over negotiations with Israel.

'Palestinian labor pains'

The two men had not met since Saturday night, when Abu Mazen stormed out of a meeting angry that Arafat would not approve his compromise list of Cabinet ministers.

Erakat had sought to soft-pedal the crisis, saying the problems are part of the democratic process.

"What we're witnessing is Palestinian democracy in action," he said. "This should be viewed as Palestinian labor pains in transforming toward a new political era. Palestinians are going through ... transformations that were not there before."

Arafat has come under enormous pressure from the international community, especially from the Madrid Quartet -- made up of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union. In addition, countries around the Arab world had urged Arafat to yield to his prime minister-designate, whose real name is Mahmoud Abbas though he is widely known and referred to by the honorific Abu Mazen.

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

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

CNN Correspondents Jerrold Kessel, Andrea Koppel and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.


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