| Yasser Arafat during a press conference in Ramallah. (Reuters)
Ramallah, Feb. 14 (Reuters): Palestinian President Yasser Arafat agreed today to appoint a Prime Minister, yielding to US and European pressure for reform of his Palestinian authority.
But Arafat, whom US President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon want to sideline after 28 months of conflict, did not say who the Prime Minister would be, when the appointment would be made and how much power he would give up.
His reform-minded finance minister, Salam Fayyad, appeared to be a likely candidate for the job, a position envisaged by a peace “roadmap” drafted by the so-called Quartet of US, EU, UN and Russian negotiators.
Israel signalled that Arafat’s decision, an apparent bid to court favour with Washington as it prepared for a possible war on Iraq, would not result in any immediate resumption of talks with the Palestinians on statehood.
Israel and the US have refused to deal with Arafat and have called on Palestinians to replace him, saying he has not done enough to stop anti-Israeli violence or stamp out corruption in his Palestinian Authority.
Arafat, a long-time symbol of Palestinian nationalism, has resisted and Palestinians have accused Bush and Sharon of trying to dictate terms for a future settlement.
Europeans have maintained contacts with Arafat but urged him to share power.
“In light of contact that we conducted with members of the Quartet... I decided to appoint a Prime Minister,” Arafat said Ramallah after meeting representatives of the group.