New Palestinian P.M. Gets Key Support

People rush an injured person to a hospital after an explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.
AP Photo/Mohammad Iqbal
Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement on Monday supported the Cabinet proposed by incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, boosting the team's chances of winning the parliamentary approval required for release of a new peace plan.

If the Cabinet is approved Tuesday, the Palestinians will have cleared the last hurdle toward the unveiling of the internationally sponsored plan. The so-called road map envisions full Palestinian statehood within three years.

President Bush has linked presentation of the plan to Abbas being installed as prime minister.

At the same time, Israel is hardening its position, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

Two hawkish factions have warned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that they'll quit the Israeli government if he implements the so-called "roadmap." Those parties oppose the plan's demand for a freeze on Jewish settlement activity. As a result, Sharon has decided that Israel will not make concessions until Abbas disarms militant groups. It's highly unlikely that'll happen, so the roadmap's first crisis is just ahead.

In West Bank fighting Monday, Israeli troops captured two Palestinians responsible for a suicide bombing in Israel last week and, in a separate incident, killed a 17-year-old gunman while raiding a refugee camp.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are complaining that Israeli soldiers have written numbers in ink on the hands of hundreds of Palestinians waiting at a crowded West Bank military checkpoint.

Several of the Palestinians with three-digit numbers scribbled on their palms said they told the soldiers they considered the practice degrading, but that they were given a choice to either turn back or submit to the marking.

The army confirmed the incident, saying it was done by a lone soldier who acted on his own and would face a disciplinary hearing.

The forming of the Palestinian Cabinet was preceded by five weeks of wrangling between Abbas and Palestinian leader Arafat, who has been reluctant to share power. Last week, after intense international pressure, Arafat withdrew some challenges but continues to wield considerable influence because of his control over Fatah, which commands a solid majority in parliament.

On Monday, Fatah's ruling body, the Central Committee, decided to instruct Fatah legislators to support the Cabinet, said Nabil Shaath, the incoming foreign minister and a senior member of the movement.

"President Arafat and the Central Committee of Fatah will provide the new Cabinet with all the Fatah support and personal support to win the vote of confidence tomorrow (Tuesday)," Shaath said.

However, it was unclear whether all Fatah legislators would heed the instructions. The lawmakers were meeting later Monday with Arafat and Abbas.

There has been widespread criticism regarding Abbas' proposed team, with some legislators complaining he has appointed several politicians tainted by corruption and he has failed to live up to expectations of a sweeping overhaul.

Legislator Hanan Ashrawi, an independent, said she has not yet decided whether to approve the Cabinet and much depends on the policy speech Abbas will deliver at the start of the session in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Ashrawi said she was disappointed that Abbas appears to have chosen Cabinet ministers largely based on personal loyalties. She said she told the prime minister-designate in a recent meeting that "if you play the game by the old rules, the president (Arafat) will beat you because he is a master of this game."

Fatah and its supporters control 62 seats in the 85-member parliament. The legislature, elected in 1996, initially had 88 members, but two have died and one has resigned. In Tuesday's vote, Abbas needs an absolute majority of 43 legislators.

One lawmaker said on condition of anonymity that he has informally polled most of his colleagues and found that at least 47 would vote in favor of the Cabinet.

The U.S. and Israel may want to sideline Arafat, but Abbas has no such intention. In his first political move, Abbas demanded that Israel lift the travel ban on Arafat.

"Arafat certainly isn't going to disappear. He is an elected president," Ashrawi told Berger.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli troops captured two Palestinian militants responsible for a suicide bombing at a train station in central Israel last week. The fugitives were holed up in a three-story residential building and were caught after a gun battle and six-hour standoff. Two soldiers were hurt.

Palestinians identified the militants as local leader of a splinter group of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Fatah, and of the local military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical PLO faction. The militias took joint responsibility for the Kfar Saba train station blast that killed a security guard.

Later Monday, Israeli troops backed by helicopter gunships raided the Jenin refugee camp, triggering a battle with local gunmen.

Residents said 17-year-old Musab Ibrahim Jaber, who was holding a rifle, was killed outside the door of his house.

The apparent target of the raid was Ali al-Qaisi, local leader of the militant Islamic Jihad group, residents said.