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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 20:56 GMT
A cabinet in Arafat's colours

By James Reynolds
BBC correspondent, Jerusalem

Yasser Arafat [centre] poses with Palestinian ministers in Ramallah
Qurei [top left] has decided it is best to let Arafat [centre] have his way

Middle East peacemakers and Palestinian politicians may come to remember one thing above all from this year.

Despite Israel and America's refusal to deal with him, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat cannot be sidestepped or sidelined.

At the beginning of the year, the creators of the international peace plan, known as the roadmap, did give it a go.

They invented the post of Palestinian prime minister to try to create an independent, alternative Palestinian leadership.

But that has not worked.

Arafat loyalists

The first Palestinian premier, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, fought unsuccessfully with Mr Arafat for six months before giving up.

Now, after weeks of arguments of his own, the new Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, has decided it is best to let Mr Arafat have his own way.

This new Palestinian cabinet is very much painted in Mr Arafat's colours.

For proof, just look at who has been appointed to the key post of Interior Minister, Hakam Balawi.

Mr Balawi is a long-time Arafat loyalist - he was certainly not Mr Qurei's preferred nominee.

Dismantling factions

As interior minister, Mr Balawi will be in charge of several branches of the Palestinian security forces.

Members of the militant group the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades
Israel has warned Qurei must tackle militant groups
The rest will report to a new National Security Council to be chaired by Mr Arafat.

In other words, Mr Arafat and his close ally will exert direct control over all the armed men employed by the Palestinian Authority.

It seems Mr Qurei may be limited to a more indirect role.

This matters, because control of the Palestinian security forces goes right to the heart of any attempt to get the peace process going.

The roadmap calls for rebuilt and refocused Palestinian security forces to dismantle the armed factions which carry out suicide bombings.

Israel wary

Mediators had hoped the prime minister would take control of the forces himself.

But, as events have shown, that is not the case.

Mr Qurei has now called for a mutual ceasefire with Israel.

But Israel has responded warily. Officials say they will give him a chance but they warn he must tackle the armed groups responsible for suicide bombings.

That may prove difficult for him to achieve, since he is not the man in charge of the men who would tackle the bombers.

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