Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia withdrew his resignation on Tuesday after the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, pledged to consolidate security forces and give Qureia more authority over police, according to cabinet ministers and other senior officials. It appeared, however, that Arafat would continue to have significant power over the bulk of the Palestinian security apparatus, they said.
In the biggest change, lawmakers said, the Palestinian Authority's 12 security forces would be reorganized into three branches, two of which -- the national security forces, or army, and the intelligence division -- would continue to report directly to the National Security Council, which is chaired by Arafat.
The third branch, the national police, would report to the prime minister and his cabinet through the interior minister. The current interior minister, Hakam Balawi, was handpicked by Arafat over Qureia's objections when Qureia's government was approved last November.
Arafat also promised to order a more rapid review of pending corruption cases by the Palestinian attorney general and to back the implementation of other reforms that have languished since being approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council two years ago.
The changes seemed to fall short of the major reforms demanded of Arafat by increasingly angry citizens and militants from within his own Fatah political movement, who in recent days staged unprecedented protests in the Gaza Strip demanding an end to official corruption. Street battles between Palestinian security forces and militants belonging to the armed wing of Fatah represented one of the most serious internal threats to Arafat's authority in a decade.
While the promise of greater control over police forces was apparently enough for Qureia to withdraw the resignation he submitted 10 days ago, it was unclear whether the moves were a mere stopgap measure to end the current crisis or if they could lead to fundamental change in the Palestinian Authority. Reforms frequently have been announced but not implemented, and there was no timetable for enacting Tuesday's measures.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is scheduled to hold talks in Cairo on Wednesday on Egypt's role in helping the Palestinians consolidate and retrain their security forces, said he believed Arafat was merely indulging in a strategy to prevent handing over real power.
"What we are looking for is action, not statements," said Powell, who described Arafat as "a master of the ambiguous statement, or the statement with a yo-yo string on it that gets pulled back."
However, Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian cabinet and the chief negotiator with the Israelis, said that "a very significant step was taken in a long road, and I believe the Palestinian people and the whole world will not judge us by our words, but by our deeds." But the crisis was not over, he said, "because the lawlessness and anarchy are still out there."
The reorganization of the security agencies is particularly important, said Minister of State Qadura Fares, because it will require Palestinian military forces to remain on their bases, except in times of national emergency, and leave law enforcement and crime-fighting to the police. "The problem was that national security forces were interfering in issues they should not interfere in, such as divorce and land ownership," he said.
But Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian political analyst and reform advocate, said the new measures were insufficient. "Nothing has changed -- the problems are not an issue to be resolved between Arafat and Abu Ala, or inside the Fatah for that matter," he said, referring to Qureia by a name used widely among Palestinians. "The change that we need will not occur without free and democratic elections."
Tuesday's announcement seemed to settle a governing crisis that began July 16 when Palestinian militants kidnapped several Palestinians and foreigners in the Gaza Strip to protest corruption in the Palestinian Authority and its security agencies and to demand reforms. The abductions reinforced demands made by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Fatah's armed wing, that Arafat relinquish some of his powers, crack down on corruption and implement reforms.
Calling the situation "a true disaster," Qureia submitted his government's resignation, complaining that he did not have sufficient authority over security agencies to calm what he called the "chaos" in Gaza. Arafat rejected the resignation, but Qureia did not withdraw it until Tuesday, using it as leverage to wrestle concessions from Arafat.
The two men emerged from a meeting at Arafat's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah holding their hands together in the air.
Staff writer Robin Wright in Cairo and special correspondent Samuel Sokol contributed to this report.