JERUSALEM – Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia won recognition for secret talks with Israel that led to the famous handshake on the White House lawn in 1993 between Yasser Arafat and Israel's Yitzhak Rabin — the birth of the peace process.
Qureia was appointed prime minister on Sept. 10, 2003 — four days after the abrupt resignation of Mahmoud Abbas.
The 65-year-old Qureia, who unlike Abbas was close to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, rose to power as the PLO's top money manager. He joined Fatah shortly after the group's 1965 founding.
His cozy relationship to Arafat concerned Washington and other advocates of the so-called road map to peace. But by the summer of 2004, Qureia had become angry at the lack of authority Arafat had granted the Cabinet to make and carry out decisions, and was said to have seen himself only as a caretaker premier.
Qureia submitted his resignation to Arafat on July 17, 2004, citing "a series of internal and external issues" that he said amounted to "a state of chaos in the security situation."
Arafat, however, refused to accept Qureia's resignation and reportedly scrawled a giant "X" over the paper with a pen. Three days later, Qureia announced he would accept Arafat's rejection of his resignation and would stay on as prime minister.
The truce did not last for long. Arafat continued to hoard power, and Qureia made more threats to resign.
Like other advocates for the road map, Qureia saw Arafat's death on Nov. 11, 2004, as an opening to continued talks with Israel. He urged the United States to implement the peace plan by 2005, as originally planned, and told The Associated Press he would ask that Palestinians be granted statehood before 2006.
Qureia, better known as Abu Ala, has two daughters and two sons. He is a recognizable face among Palestinians, having toured many villages and refugee camps, and he's known to be a good listener.
He returned to the Palestinian territories from exile in Tunisia in 1994 along with Arafat and other leaders, and was elected to serve as speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996.
His first decision as speaker was to forbid lawmakers from smoking during the sessions, but the unpopular directive failed after just two meetings.
Qureia has an easygoing style that has won him friendships over the years with his Israeli counterparts, especially with former Israeli negotiator Uri Savir.
In a 1997 book, "The Process: The story of Oslo from A to Z," Savir wrote of the warm relationship between the two men and their families. A picture in the book shows their daughters, Maya Savir and Mona Qureia together at Maya's wedding in Tel Aviv in 1995.
In July 1999, Qureia accepted an invitation to visit Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and met there with its speaker, Avraham Burg.
Qureia has long been at the heart of negotiations with Israel. He was the head of the Palestinian team in talks that led to the breakthrough 1993 Oslo peace accords, which gave birth to the concept of "land for peace" — Israel would return occupied lands in the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian control in exchange for peace and security.
The accords laid out a framework of interim agreements that were to end with two states.
In particular, Qureia worked to reassure Israelis that acknowledging responsibility for the refugee crisis created by Israel's establishment in 1948 would not trigger a flood of returnees that could overwhelm the Jewish state.
Still, talks collapsed in the summer of 2000 with disagreements over key issues, among them the refugee issue and the status of Jerusalem, which both sides want as a capital.
The current round of fighting broke out a short time later, in September 2000.
Qureia has had several heart attacks, the first one in the middle of a negotiating session with Israeli leaders in September 1995. Israel's Shimon Peres rode by his side in an ambulance that took him to an Israeli hospital. An emotional Qureia later thanked Peres and said he saved his life.
His health stabilized after surgery to unblock a coronary artery last year at a hospital in Amman, Jordan. He returns to the hospital every three months for checkups.
Qureia had another close call in February of 2002: Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near the West Bank town of Ramallah mistakenly shot at his bulletproof luxury car as he was returning home from a meeting with Arafat. No one was hurt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.