Palestinian minister resigns over Arafat


The Palestinian justice minister announced his resignation Saturday, part of a growing government crisis over Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s refusal to carry out internal reform and share power. The minister, Nahed Arreyes, said he stepped down because key powers had been taken from him. He did not mention Arafat by name. However, several months ago, Arafat created a rival agency to the justice ministry and continues to control the judiciary.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Qassis also submitted his resignation, but apparently not as an act of protest. Qassis said he was leaving the Cabinet to serve as president of Bir Zeit University, the largest in the West Bank.

In Israel, the police minister, Tsahi Hanegbi, called for the detention of Jewish extremists without charges or trial, reiterating warnings that they might attack Israeli leaders or a Jerusalem holy site sacred to Muslims and Jews.

The resignation of Arreyes underscored the growing crisis in the Palestinian Authority. Last month, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia stepped down, then withdrew his resignation after Arafat promised to give him more powers. However, there has been no evidence Arafat has kept his promise to Qureia.

Arafat has been trying to beat back demands for internal reform. Adding to the chaos, different groups of gunmen have backed players on all sides, carrying out kidnappings and shootings.

Arreyes apparently was frustrated by Arafat’s attempts to block judicial reform. Several months ago, Arafat appointed a so-called Higher Judicial Council, headed by a loyalist, that has taken over key ministry functions.

In a brief interview in his Gaza City home, Arreyes said that he no longer had authority over state prosecutors. “The prosecution should be under the control of the Justice Ministry, according to the law,” he said, declining to elaborate. “My resignation comes as a protest against the incorrect position of the prosecution.”

He said he submitted his resignation Wednesday, and was waiting for Qureia to approve it. Qureia said he wants Arreyes to stay on the job, and would try to resolve the dispute over the authorities of the justice ministry. “We stand by him and we hope we can resolve the issue,” Qureia told reporters in Ramallah.

In Israel, the police minister, Hanegbi, said he was in favor of holding Jewish extremists without trial or charges, in so-called administrative detention.

Administrative detentions of Jews has been extremely rare. However, thousands of Palestinians suspected of anti Israeli violence have been locked up under the practice, which dates back to British mandate rule.

Hanegbi noted that such orders could only be issued by the defense minister who has not spoken publicly on the issue.

“This is not within my authority, but I’m in favor,” he said in an interview broadcast Saturday on Israel Radio. “I’m in favor of any measure that can prevent an attack on the Temple Mount, or an attack on public officials.”