RAMALLAH, West Bank Yasser Arafat won a tough political battle Tuesday as the Palestinian parliament approved his new 19-member Cabinet despite dissenters demanding more sweeping reforms and limits on the authority of the Palestinian leader.
After a day of heated discussions in the Palestinian parliament, legislators voted 56-18 to approve Arafat's new Cabinet, providing him with a rare success. In recent months, he has faced repeated sieges by the Israeli army at his Ramallah compound and increasing criticism by fellow Palestinians.
"I'm proud of the Palestinian democratic process. This is a victory for the Palestinian people," Arafat said. "It is a step toward reform."
Naming a new Cabinet was a key reform measure expected of the Palestinians in a new U.S.-backed peace plan. The Cabinet has only four members who have not served in previous Cabinets, and critics said some of those suspected of corruption remain in their posts.
The most important addition to the Cabinet is Hani al-Hassan, the interior minister who is to oversee the restructuring of the security services, which consist of about a dozen overlapping agencies.
Israel wants the Palestinian security forces to prevent attacks against Israel. However, al-Hassan said, "my goal is to protect the Palestinian people. This is my only task."
In a speech to parliament Tuesday, Arafat said he was committed to reform, but suggested it would not be as sweeping as sought by the United States. He criticized Israeli military strikes against the Palestinians, but said he was prepared to pursue peace talks.
"The uprising of the people and its rejection of the (Israeli) occupation and settlements doesn't mean a rejection of comprehensive peace," he said.