International peacekeepers have lately taken to visiting Ramallah to try and solve the increasing differences in relations between Yasser Arafat, the Head of the Palestinian National Authority, and Abu Mazen, the Prime Minister.
The differences, or rather the crisis as some local observers prefer to call it, arose from Arafat's refusal to accept the list of ministers of the new Palestinian government as proposed by Abu Mazen.
For instance, he is dead set against the suggestion to appoint Muhammed Dahlan, former Head of the Security service in Gaza, the Interior Minister. According to observers, Arafat probably disapproves of Dahlan's earlier independence and is loath to entrust him with as important power structure as this. Arafat also demands that the new government would keep at least 12 ministers from the previous cabinet.
Abu Mazen retorts to this by threatening to resign.
In the meantime, it was the new Palestinian government that international peacekeepers have been counting on to help launch the Road Map plan of the so-called Middle East Quartet. The association, which purpose is to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, unites Russia, the USA, the United Nations, and the European Union.
Envoys from the quartet's four parties are now going out of their way to influence the Palestinian leadership and help create a new government, obviously hoping to launch their plan as soon as possible.
At least, that is what Andrei Vdovin, the Russian President's Special Envoy to the Middle East, who arrived in the region on Tuesday and met with Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen in Ramallah, told RIA Novosti.
Vdovin said in a RIA Novosti interview that his Ramallah meetings proved that the prospect for forming a new cabinet is somewhat bleak for the moment due to disagreements on some of the appointments. However, he thinks the way out will hopefully be found and a new trusted cabinet will be formed in Palestine.
EU envoy for the Middle East Miguel Moratinos had earlier talked to Yasser Arafat on the phone. He reportedly told the Palestinian leader that Europe would prefer Abu Mazen as Palestine's Prime Minister. Arafat broke off the conversation slamming down the receiver. Moratinos telephoned the leader again the next day and the latter had to pull himself together and carry on the unpleasant conversation.
Observers say Arafat would prefer somebody else, not Abu Mazen, who is too independent and set to take a firm hold of power and move Arafat somewhat aside, to take the post of premier. Yasser Arafat has got accustomed to adopting the decisions he thinks proper, giving little heed to other Palestinian officials' opinions. The Palestinian autonomy had not had the post of premier and Arafat was in charge of the government himself.
The idea to appoint a prime minister appeared when Israel refused to carry on talks with Arafat, accusing him of backing terrorism. Such an approach appealed to Washington. When delivering the State of the Union Address in June 2002, President George Bush said Palestine's authority bodies needed radical reform. It was only evident that Americans were in for ousting Arafat from the negotiating process and from office.
Abu Mazen seems to be someone who can get peace talks off the ground and is therefore the most appropriate candidate for Palestine's premiership, something the Mideastern Quartet, the US and even Israel agree on.
Israel, particularly its right-wingers, does subject Abu Mazen to criticism, rather biting at that. Yet, local observers say the new Palestinian premier can hardly be expected to propagate ideas of Zionism. Whoever is elected premier in Palestine, he will be protecting his country's interests in the first instance, and Israel will have to deal with that leader.
Nevertheless, in the opinion of the "quartet," the Americans and the Israelis, one important question remains - whether Abu Mazen will really lead the Palestinian government or he will be forced to obey Arafat's instructions in everything. In the last case, the Israelis say, for instance, there is no hope for any progress in the negotiations.
However, Abu Mazen's obvious unwillingness to play a puppet role shows that the new Palestinian Prime Minister intends to rely in his work on the real mandate of power.
It is this position of Abu Mazen, point out the observers, that caused a sharp protest on the part of Arafat. As it was reported last Sunday, he is conducting personal conversations with other Palestinian politicians, who are more obedient to him, with the aim of convincing them to take the post of the head of the government. Speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Ahmad Qurei, was mentioned in this connection, however, as it was reported, he declined Arafat's offer immediately.
However, Washington has supported Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen should have the powers to independently form the Cabinet of Minister, said in particular Spokesman for the US Department of State Richard Boucher.
It has also been reported, that British Prime Minister Tony Blair rang up Yasser Arafat on Tuesday. And he, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, demanded in a tough form that Arafat should do everything possible for Abu Mazen to become the Palestinian Prime Minister.
The observers believe that Egypt, too, will try to convince Yasser Arafat to show more pliability to share power with Abu Mazen.