Palestinians Not Interested In Prime Minister, PA Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinians are not very interested in the idea of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat appointing a prime minister even though the international community is making a big fuss about it, a PA minister said.

Under intense international pressure, Arafat agreed to appoint a prime minister. His Fatah movement's central committee recently voted unanimously to support Arafat's proposal for the appointment of a prime minister.

The so-called Quartet - the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations - hope that a prime minister could wrest power from Arafat, run the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians and implement necessary reforms in the PA.

U.N. envoy to the Middle East peace process Terje Larson has said that "appointing a credible and empowered prime minister is crucial."

The Palestinian Legislative Council is due to meet over the weekend to make the appointment of a prime minister legally possible. The PLC is then due to meet on Monday to approve a specific appointee, nominated by Arafat himself.

But PA Minister of Trade, Ghassan Khatib, said Palestinians rarely talk about the subject among themselves only when foreign journalists are around.

"It's a non-issue for the Palestinian public and officials," Khatib told "The people here do not feel the need for a prime minister."

The people believe they are heading back to a situation where they will live under Israeli "occupation," he said.

Israel has said repeatedly that it is not interested in re-occupying Palestinian areas or ruling over the Palestinians but wants only to rout the terrorist infrastructure that is imbedded in places under PA control and prevent terrorism against its citizens.

If the PA would take up that challenge to put an end to terrorism, Israel would withdraw its troops, Israel says.

But Palestinians are wary of Israel's intentions and believe that Israel wants to re-occupy not only the West Bank, where it has been in command off and on since last summer, but also the Gaza Strip.

Arafat has yet to name the candidate of his choice.

According to Khatib, the "strongest candidate" is Abu Mazen but he is "hesitant" to take the job because it would be "politically harmful" for any politician, he said.

However, Khatib dismissed reports that Arafat was considering appointing a Nablus businessman Munib al-Masri to the position.

"There is no ground for the strong media rumors," Khatib said. "The media is making him a candidate...I don't think this guy has a chance."

Khatib explained that the appointee must be a Fatah official and al-Masri is not. Al-Masri, who is rumored to be a billionaire but in any case is very wealthy, has among other things interests in the Gulf and has built U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia.