RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) announced the formation of a Cabinet on Sunday and said he will present it to parliament this week, capping a power struggle that left Yasser Arafat (search) firmly in control of security forces.
The deal between Qureia and Arafat bodes ill for the U.S.-backed road map, already paralyzed for weeks by the turmoil in Palestinian politics. It was not clear whether Israel would resume high-level contacts with the Palestinians, as initially expected.
In a bid to stop Palestinian attacks, Israel and the United States had hoped to sideline Arafat and see the security services consolidated under an empowered prime minister. But the Palestinian leader prevailed in the end.
"This is a sad day for reform because we see that the control of the security services remains in the hands of Arafat's cartel of terror," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search).
The new Cabinet consists of 24 ministers, many of them old-timers who have served in previous administrations. Qureia initially promised to appoint newcomers, including young leaders of the ruling Fatah movement. While 15 ministers are from Fatah, only one is from the young guard. Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath keep their jobs.
Qureia said he would present the team to parliament for approval Wednesday.
The prime minister had hoped to consolidate the various Palestinian security forces under a single interior minister, Gen. Nasser Yousef, in line with U.S. expectations.
However, Arafat succeeded in putting a hand-picked confidant, Hakam Balawi, into the post and keeping the security forces under different commands.
Balawi will control the civil police and the Preventive Security Service, which would have a key role in any action against militant groups. The other six branches will report to the 12-member National Security Council headed by Arafat.
Arafat even rejected a last face-saving consolation for his prime minister, who sought to have Yousef, his pick for interior minister, stay in the government as a deputy prime minister. Qureia said after a Sunday meeting with that a decision on the matter had been delayed.
Palestinian politics have been in disarray since Mahmoud Abbas resigned Sept. 6 as prime minister after failing to wrest security forces from Arafat's control.
Qureia was appointed his successor, but wrangling over a new Cabinet and its powers prevented him from taking office for weeks.
Last month, Arafat appointed an emergency Cabinet as he worked to settle his differences with Qureia. The Cabinet's one-month term expired last week, and Qureia has presided over a caretaker government since then.
With no stable Palestinian government in power, talks with Israel and efforts to implement the road map have been on hold.
Israel and the United States believe Arafat has links to Palestinian attacks and is an obstacle to peace. U.S. officials had hoped a prime minister in control of security personnel might use them to crack down on Islamic and other militant groups that have killed hundreds of Israelis -- a key demand of the road map.
However, both Abbas and Qureia have said they would not use force against the militants. Qureia has said he is confident he can persuade them to halt violence.
In other developments, the backers of a symbolic peace plan known as the Geneva Accord were printing 1.9 million copies -- one for every mailbox in Israel -- of the 50-page agreement, complete with maps of a proposed border between Palestine and Israel. The packets are to be mailed out next week, said Daniel Levy, one of the agreement's negotiators.
In Palestinian towns, with no real functioning postal system, pamphlets detailing the agreement will be distributed by hand, he said. The agreement will also be published in newspapers.
Over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed support for the agreement, an apparent rebuke to Sharon who has denounced it as subversive.