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The Prime Ministers Nobody Knows

From the March 17, 2003 issue: Why Arafat's new PM won't matter.

Mar 17, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 26 • By ROBERT SATLOFF
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So, when Arafat appoints a prime minister--probably his longtime lieutenant, the 68-year-old Mahmoud Abbas--the Bush administration should not let the august description of his powers blur the political reality. Like the U.N. Security Council's minuet on Iraq, this is only a distraction that allows the local despot to divide the allies and play for time.

Nine months ago, President Bush said that the clock on active U.S. support for Palestinian statehood--a just cause in its own right--should not start ticking until the Palestinians had new leadership. Unless the new Palestinian premier shows through deeds that he is something besides a glorified Arafat flunky, rewriting Middle East history in the process, Washington should not let his mastery of English, his soothing, moderate-sounding words, or his good personal grooming substitute for the one act that would truly constitute the coming of new Palestinian leadership: the replacement of Arafat himself.

Robert Satloff is the director of policy and strategic planning for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.