Published September 09, 2003
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Nominated to take over as Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (search) said Monday that Israel must comply with its obligations under the "road map" peace plan -- or he will face the same impossible situation that felled Mahmoud Abbas (search).
The parliament speaker, who won respect in Israel and abroad for his role in peace negotiations a decade ago, warned that unless Israel changes its attitude toward Yasser Arafat (search) there is no point in appointing a Palestinian prime minister. Israel has shunned Arafat, whom it accuses of fomenting terrorism, and had hoped Abbas, as premier, would in effect sideline the veteran Palestinian leader.
"I don't want failure," said Qureia (pronounced Ko-REY-yah), who is a close ally of Arafat but also has credibility with Israel as a moderate and former peace negotiator. "It's the Israeli government that brought down the previous government."
Early Tuesday, Israeli soldiers surrounded an eight-story building in Hebron, evacuating residents, engaging armed Palestinians in a gunfight and firing tank shells at the apartment complex, witnesses said.
The soldiers surrounded the building, where the Kawasme family lives, calling on loudspeakers for occupants to leave, Palestinian witnesses said. Four homicide bombers in the past three years of fighting have been members of the Kawasme family. Israel has a policy of demolishing the homes of homicide bombers in the hopes of deterring further attacks.
Israel Radio reported that at least one armed Palestinian had been wounded in the fighting.
Arafat had asked Qureia to accept the position on Sunday, a day after Abbas resigned. On Monday there was still confusion about his response, reflecting a feeling of urgency among Palestinians over resolving the political crisis.
After meeting with Qureia -- known as Abu Ala -- Arafat told leaders of his Fatah Party and other factions that Qureia had accepted the nomination in principle, said an official who was present at the meeting.
"Arafat told us that Abu Ala has accepted the job in principle, but he is working to get guarantees from the various parties that his mission will succeed," said Qeis Abdelkarim, a member of a PLO faction.
But Qureia said he has not given his final answer. "I'm still studying the issue," he told The Associated Press. If Qureia formally accepts, he must be confirmed by parliament.
Abbas, appointed in April under Israeli and U.S. pressure, was unpopular among Palestinians because he was backed by Israel and frequently wrangled with Arafat. He resigned after Arafat refused to put the security services under his control. But Abbas also said the main problem was Israeli noncompliance with the peace plan.
The plan calls for an end to violence and a Palestinian state by 2005.
Israel has ignored clauses that require it to freeze construction in Jewish settlements and dismantle settlement outposts established since 2001. It also remains in control of most West Bank towns.
Israeli leaders demanded Abbas dismantle militant groups as required by the plan. Abbas refused to use force to do so.
The militant groups declared a temporary end to attacks on Israelis in June. But some attacks continued, as did Israeli arrests of militants. After a homicide bombing that killed 22 people in Jerusalem last month and was claimed by the militant group Hamas, the truce fell apart.
Israel is now in the midst of a campaign against Hamas militants, killing 12 in recent weeks and slightly injuring the group's revered founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
"I want to see a real cease-fire from both sides with enough commitment to stop all kinds of killing of the Palestinians or killing of the Israelis," Qureia told reporters on Monday.
"I want to see that the Israelis will change the way of dealing with Yasser Arafat, the elected president, because I cannot go without his support," he said.
And Qureia warned that if Israel doesn't "change the way that it treats the elected president, there will be no need for a prime minister or a Palestinian government."
Qureia, 65, who helped put together the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the PLO, said Israel must halt its "policy of assassination."
"We also need the support of the Israelis, the support of the Americans, and the support of President Arafat," he said.
Qureia met with Arafat and other officials in Ramallah on Monday to discuss his nomination. Qureia also met with American, Russian and Egyptian diplomats, discussing his requests for support and the possible composition of a new government.
The Fatah party wants the new government to be formed quickly to prevent a vacuum in which Israel might move against Arafat. In response to Abbas' resignation, several Israeli Cabinet ministers have stepped up demands to expel Arafat.
The United States has opposed sending Arafat into exile. But many Israeli and U.S. leaders share an interest in sidelining Arafat, who has been confined to his Ramallah headquarters by Israeli sieges and threats.