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Prospective pm says us must pressure israel { September 8 2003 }

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September 8, 2003
Prospective Palestinian Premier Says U.S. Must Press Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept. 8 Ahmed Qurei, the man who might become Palestinian prime minister, said today that for him to succeed in that post, the Bush administration would have to press Israel to restrain its military and to "change their way of dealing with President Arafat."

"These are requirements for the success of this mission," said Mr. Qurei, who was nominated for the prime ministership by Yasir Arafat on Saturday. "I will not accept to be a failure."

Mr. Qurei, the speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, would follow Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as prime minister over the weekend. Mr. Abbas blamed Israel for his resignation, saying that it had undermined his government, but he also told Palestinian legislators that Mr. Arafat had not given him enough support.

President Bush set the creation of an empowered prime minister this spring as a condition for proceeding with the latest peace plan, known as the road map. He and Israeli officials embraced Mr. Abbas as an alternative to Mr. Arafat, whom they hoped to isolate diplomatically.

For the moment, the failure of Mr. Abbas's government does not appear to have prompted either side to rethink its strategy. In their public statements today, both sides here indicated, if anything, less flexibility on their core demands. Peace talks have been frozen since a suicide bomber from Hamas killed 22 people aboard a Jerusalem bus on Aug. 19.

Israeli officials said today that they expected Mr. Qurei, should he become prime minister, to distance himself from Mr. Arafat. "He will have to decide whether he stands with Arafat or whether he stands against terrorism," the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, said.

Further, he said that any new prime minister's "first step must be to make the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism."

But Mr. Qurei said that Israeli actions, not Mr. Arafat or Palestinian violence, were chiefly to blame for the impasse. "I'm saying that the ball is not in the Palestinian court, and it is not with President Arafat," he said. "The ball is in the Israeli court, and with the Israelis."

Mr. Qurei added in a reference to Israeli weapons: "President Arafat doesn't move the Apaches or the tanks or the phantoms. He doesn't authorize the invasions. President Arafat is under siege, and this thing must end."

Unlike Mr. Abbas, who avoided the press, Mr. Qurei made a point of making brief statements and answering a few questions today in what may have been a bid to reassure Palestinians, who came to regard Mr. Abbas as too conciliatory toward the Israelis.

If Mr. Qurei accepts the nomination, he will have to be confirmed by the Palestinian Parliament, where he has wide support. Mr. Qurei is also strongly supported within Mr. Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement.

Like Mr. Abbas, Mr. Qurei, who is also known as Abu Ala, has a reputation as a pragmatist with good relationships with top Israeli officials. He met today with American and Russian diplomats.

Mr. Abbas resigned after repeatedly clashing with Mr. Arafat. Their last fight was over Mr. Arafat's refusal to hand over full control of the security forces to Mr. Abbas, who was seeking to take some action against Hamas and other militant groups.

One official of Mr. Abbas' outgoing government said, "Abu Ala won't be in a position to form a government if Arafat refuses to cede the authority of all the security forces to the government."

In the Gaza Strip today, Israeli soldiers shot and killed an armed Palestinian who was apparently trying to infiltrate an Israeli settlement, the army said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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