JERUSALEM, Sept. 12 (JTA) — Israeli and Palestinian officials put dramatically different spins on this week’s resignations by the entire Palestinian Cabinet. Israeli officials saw the development as a step toward the ultimate replacement of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But Palestinian officials called the Cabinet’s resignation a victory for democracy, not a revolt against Arafat. They point to how one branch of government, the legislative, put the brakes on another, the executive. On Wednesday, Arafat’s 21-member Cabinet was forced to resign to avoid being ousted by legislators in a no-confidence vote. The Palestinian legislative council convened this week in Ramallah to vote on the new Cabinet that Arafat appointed in June. Just moments before lawmakers were to hold the vote Wednesday, Cabinet ministers submitted their resignations to Arafat. Protesting corruption and incompetence among Cabinet members, a majority of lawmakers speaking at Wednesday’s session of the legislative council said they would vote against the Cabinet. Following the resignations, Arafat was expected to appoint an interim government within two weeks. Israeli Cabinet ministers saw the resignations as an opportunity for them to bypass Arafat. Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said the time is now right for an Israeli political initiative to encourage a moderate Palestinian leadership. Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin described the resignations as the beginning of a “new era.” Rivlin, who participated in talks with Palestinian officials this week, said that while the Palestinians may not yet be ready to openly blame Arafat for the current situation, “there are changes in the Palestinians’ way of thinking.” The Israeli military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi, said Wednesday’s Cabinet resignation signified a new low in Arafat’s status among his own people. The resignations are part of a process that will eventually lead to Arafat’s being replaced, he added. One Israeli commentator noted that Palestinian lawmakers may have been motivated by self-interest. Keenly aware that Palestinian elections would be held soon, they may well have been ready to vote no-confidence in the Cabinet to show voters that they are actively fighting for reform. On Wednesday, Arafat set Jan. 20 as the date for Palestinian presidential and legislative elections. The United States had sought to delay presidential elections in hopes of having the Palestinians create the office of prime minister, a move aimed at turning Arafat into a figurehead president. It is not immediately clear, however, when the elections would be held. Palestinian officials are calling for an Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip before any elections are held. Israel, however, says it will only withdraw troops if there is an end to violence. Let the Palestinians “stop terrorist activity, let them stop condoning terror, and then they can have elections,” said Ra’anan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “The terror is preventing free elections.”
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