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Qurei Named Palestinian PM, Condemns Isolation of Arafat

By James Bennet

The New York Times -- RAMALLAH, West Bank

The man named by Yasser Arafat to be the next Palestinian prime minister challenged a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s Middle East policy Monday, saying that for him to succeed, Israel must stop isolating Arafat.

Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian authority.

Ahmed Qurei, whom associates called all but certain to accept the post of Palestinian prime minister, said the Bush administration must press Israel to restrain its military and to “change their way of dealing with President Arafat.”

“These are requirements for the success of this mission,” said Qurei, named by Arafat on Saturday. “I will not accept to be a failure.”

Speaking to reporters Monday, Qurei, an experienced politician, seemed eager to reassure Palestinians of his loyalty to Arafat. Regardless of whether he expects the Bush administration to reverse itself on Arafat, his fervently emphasized allegiance underscored a standing paradox of the Bush administration’s policy: It wants whoever becomes prime minister to undermine the very man from whom he derives authority.

Answering a few questions outside his legislative office here, on his way to see Arafat, Qurei said Israel was at fault for the collapse of peace talks. “President Arafat doesn’t move the Apaches, or the tanks,” he said, referring to Israeli weapons. “He doesn’t authorize the invasions. President Arafat is under siege, and this thing must end.”

Qurei, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, would succeed Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as prime minister over the weekend. Abbas never became popular among Palestinians, in part because he was seen as an American and Israeli tool against Arafat -- a view that some Palestinian politicians say Arafat encouraged.

Abbas, who was also consistently careful to emphasize his loyalty to Arafat, blamed Israel for his failure, saying that it had undercut his government. But Abbas also told Palestinian legislators that Arafat had not backed him.