Israel: Settlers to Be Disarmed

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) on Tuesday promised a drastic overhaul of his Cabinet, signaling the start of long-sought reform, after his original lineup of political old-timers prompted an angry outcry and threats of a no-confidence vote.

Qureia told parliament he would largely appoint experts, rather than politicians, to the Cabinet, which will be presented to parliament for approval Wednesday.

Sweeping change in the Cabinet would mark a first for the Palestinian Authority. Until now, the ministers were largely chosen from a small circle of cronies of the late Yasser Arafat (search), often regardless of expertise.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search), whose relations with Qureia have been increasingly cool in recent weeks, appeared to be largely untouched by the political turmoil. Abbas could simply appoint a new prime minister if Qureia fails to win approval for his Cabinet.

In Israel, police said they would assign some 18,000 officers, or nearly the entire field force, to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer. The officers involved in evacuation settlers won't be armed, police said.

Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra (search) said extremists among the withdrawal opponents who incite to violence would be disarmed.

"Anyone who calls for using weapons, or other illegal means, will be taken care of," he told Israel Radio. "We'll simply take their arms ahead of time. We don't have to wait for the [evacuation] date to take their weapons."

Virtually all settlers are armed, many carrying army-issue weapons for defense against possible attack by Palestinian militants. Disarming even some of them would be unprecedented.

Ezra's comments, along with plans for a large-scale police deployment, indicated growing concern that the withdrawal could turn bloody.

Jewish settler leaders said they plan mass sit-ins to try to thwart the evacuation of 9,000. Emily Amrusy, a spokeswoman for the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements, said she expected opponents of a withdrawal to mobilize 100,000 protesters. Amrusy said protesters would refrain from violence.

The crisis over the Palestinian Cabinet began Monday when Qureia presented a 24-member Cabinet to parliament, with only four new faces in the team. In a stormy parliament session, 23 of 27 speakers said they would not support the Cabinet, demanding the ouster of several corruption-tainted ministers.

When it became increasingly apparent that the Cabinet would not be approved, the session was stopped. Abbas and Qureia summoned legislators from their Fatah movement to ask them for their support, but many declined. Fatah controls more than half the seats in the 85-member parliament.

Addressing parliament Tuesday, Qureia said he would present a new team.

"We have agreed that the new Cabinet should ... consist of technocrats," Qureia said.

Qureia indicated major changes, saying only two of the Cabinet ministers would also be members of parliament and that most of the others would be professional appointments. In the Cabinet he originally proposed, more than a dozen ministers are also legislators.

The most prominent of the professional appointees is Finance Minister Salam Fayyad (search), who is widely respected by the international community and has held the job for three years.

Qureia's new Cabinet would likely include ex-general Nasser Yousef (search) as interior minister, in charge of the security forces. In the 1990s, Yousef led a crackdown on Islamic militants in Gaza and is widely seen as determined to push for a reform of the security forces.

Also likely to make the new list is Palestinian U.N. envoy Nasser al-Kidwa (search), who is to replace Nabil Shaath as foreign minister, with Shaath becoming deputy prime minister.

Palestinian officials said Shaath and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, apparently would be included in any future Cabinet, even though they are also members of parliament.

Legislator Hanan Ashrawi (search) said parliament's rebellion marked a turning point for Palestinian politics.

"The conclusion is that what people want are [ministers] who are capable, who are honest, who have credibility and who will do the work," she said.

Abbas, who replaced Arafat, has promised to carry out sweeping government and security reforms, but legislators said the Cabinet initially proposed by Qureia would not be up to the job.

Commentators said the rebellion of the lawmakers might be prompted, in part, by a desire to position themselves as anti-corruption crusaders ahead of legislative elections in July.

Fatah, which has controlled the Palestinian Authority for the past decade, is widely seen as corrupt and is bracing for possible defeat by the Islamic militant group Hamas.