Rajub said on Monday that Arafat, who is struggling with unelected Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas for control of the security services, had placed him in charge of revamping the multi-headed security body.

“The National Security Council will be in charge of restructuring the security organisation and in charge of putting out general plans and overseeing and co-ordinating the relationship with the Quartet,” said Rajub, referring to the foreign powers that drafted the “road map” for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Arafat will remain the head of the security council, but Rajub will be the guiding influence, he added.

Rajub is seen as one of the few men strong enough to stand up to the current Palestinian Security Minister, Muhammad Dahlan, a close ally of Abbas and the former head of preventive security in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Power struggle

"Rajub was always seen as rival to Dahlan and can compete with him"

Hani al-Masri,
Palestinian political analyst

Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri described Rajub’s appointment as a clear challenge to Dahlan.

“It’s very clear that it weakens Dahlan,” he said. “Rajub was always seen as rival to Dahlan and can compete with him.”

Al-Masri also said the step was an indicator of Arafat’s refusal to be sidelined. The Palestinian President is under heavy US and Israeli pressure to dismantle resistance groups spearheading the Intifada or uprising against Israel’s illegal occupation.

The appointment comes amid tensions over a proposal floated with the Fatah Central Committee to name Nasir Yusuf as Interior Minister, a position currently occupied by Abbas.

The Palestinian Premier controls the civil police, civil defence and preventive security force.

The 35,000-40,000 strong National Security Force and other branches such as intelligence, the Navy and border police are still under Arafat’s command.

US prefers Abbas

The US State Department had no comment on Arafat's appointment but again called on the Palestinian leader to give Abbas more control.

"Our view is that prime minister Abbas needs to be given all available security elements, to have those elements under his control so that they can allow progress to be made on the roadmap," deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said.