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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Offers Abbas Prime Minister Post

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Yasser Arafat on Wednesday asked Mahmoud Abbas, his longtime PLO deputy, to serve as prime minister, officials said, marking the first time the Palestinian leader is formally required to share power.

Arafat tried until the last minute to limit the powers of the new position, but was rebuffed by a rebellious parliament -- a sign of his weakening influence.

Once Abbas accepts the appointment, he has five weeks to form a new Cabinet. Among senior Palestinians, Abbas is the most outspoken critic of shooting and bombing attacks on Israelis and enjoys good relations with U.S. and Israeli officials.

Abbas has an ambivalent relationship with Arafat. He has never publicly challenged the Palestinian leader, but the two have had many private arguments.

On Wednesday, Arafat sent a letter to Abbas asking him to serve as prime minister and to appoint a new Cabinet, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said.

Arafat had resisted the idea of creating the new post of prime minister for months but finally agreed last month, under intense international pressure.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian parliament gave final approval to legislation creating the post, giving Abbas the authority to appoint the Cabinet, call it into session and oversee its functions. Legislators rejected Arafat's demand to give him a say over Cabinet appointments.

"It's the beginning of a transition. It is certainly a turning point and a qualitative shift in the political culture," said legislator Hanan Ashrawi. "Now we have power-sharing that is clearly spelled out."

Arafat remains the commander of Palestinian security forces and the broader "Palestinian leadership," a body that includes the Cabinet, PLO leaders and security commanders. Arafat also retains the final say in peace talks with Israel.

The United States and Israel demanded that Arafat be sidelined or neutralized, charging that he has not done enough to stop Palestinian attacks against Israelis during nearly 30 months of violence.

"We respond positively" to creation of the position, said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"It seems that President Arafat will still retain authority over security and other matters, and we will have to see now whether the prime minister has the kind of authority that that we can view as authority," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush said Friday that installing a credible Palestinian prime minister with real powers is a prerequisite for unveiling a U.S.-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood.