Ramallah, Nov. 12 (Reuters): President Yasser Arafat swore in a long-awaited Palestinian cabinet today in a step toward a resumption of US-backed peace talks with Israel and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie vowed to seek a ceasefire.
In a debate before parliament, Arafat, often cited by the US as an obstacle to peace, adopted a conciliatory tone rarely heard by his people in a three-year-old uprising. “We do not deny the right of the Israeli people to live in security side by side with the Palestinian people also living in their own independent state,” he said. Israel rebuffed him. Deputies voted 48-13 to confirm Qurie's 24-member cabinet after two months of paralysing power struggles which, along with intractable violence, stalled the“road map” peace plan for a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory by 2005.
US-led mediators believe a reform-minded leadership must take over to curb violence and disarray. Arafat’s retention of dominant powers is seen by Washington as a serious impediment to peace diplomacy. The 74-year-old former guerrilla leader accused Israel of “a criminal war” of incursions to crush his people's aspirations, then switched gear and extended an olive branch.