Indeed, the main point of contention between Abbas and Arafat was the latter's control of most of the estimated 60,000 Palestinian security officers scattered among several agencies. Arafat refused to cede authority to Abbas, who said he was helpless to crack down on militant groups as required by the road map.
Whether Korei would be able to pry away some of that authority remains to be seen. But those who have worked with Korei say that he knows how to finesse his boss, using tact and persuasion to get his way rather than bluntly confronting Arafat or trying to upstage him the way some analysts felt Abbas did.
"I don't think he will try to confront Arafat this way," said Ron Pundak, an Israeli negotiator who sat across the table from Korei during the Oslo peace talks. "He will be more like a dancer walking on thin ice between the drops. He will try to survive without reaching confrontation either with Arafat, with Israel or with the Americans."
Pundak told Israeli radio that in spite of a relationship with Arafat dating back 35 years, Korei was an independent figure who "won't be anybody's yes man."
Indeed, six months ago, Korei presided over a heated session in parliament that resulted in a near-unanimous vote to strip Arafat of some of his power. The move, at least in theory, deprived Arafat of the right to pick and approve Cabinet members, awarding that prerogative to the newly created post of prime minister.
And during the infighting between Abbas and Arafat, Korei tried to appear above the fray, describing the behavior of both men as childish and acting as a go-between to smooth over their conflict.
While Korei doesn't have much of a power base or a lot of credibility on the Palestinian street, which still looks to Arafat as the icon of Palestinian resistance, he does boast experience as an elected official, unlike Abbas. Korei was elected to parliament from his home district in Abu Dis, a neighborhood on the edge of Jerusalem, and as speaker established strong ties with his fellow lawmakers, who would have to confirm him as prime minister if he accepts Arafat's nomination.
"He has a very good relationship with Palestinian legislators," said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator. "This will be one of his key strengths."
Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Washington contributed to this report.