Abbas pledges move to peace
MAHMOUD Abbas yesterday said Palestinians were "ready for peace" with Israel after he won a sweeping victory in Palestinian elections.
The newly-elected Palestinian leader said he is eager to resume peace talks with Israel.
"We extend our hands to our neighbours," he said. "We are ready for peace, peace based on justice. We hope that their response will be positive."
He called for a resumption of peace talks based on the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.
Officials yesterday confirmed Mr Abbas had won 62.3 per cent of Sunday’s vote, compared to about 20 per cent for the next highest candidate, Mustafa Barghouthi, a democracy activist .
The decisive victory will strengthen Mr Abbas’s hand in dealing with both Israel and Palestinian militants.
Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had pledged to end the armed intifada and restart peace talks with Israel, and commentators said his victory was a clear endorsement of politics over armed struggle."Yasser Arafat’s reference was that of the negotiator and the fighter at the same time," said Hassan al-Kashif, a Gaza Strip political analyst . "Abu Mazen’s reference will be the political option only."
Nabil Amr, a Palestinian legislator and close ally of Mr Abbas outlined the president’s coming steps. "He will start immediately to open the political track with the Israelis and he must reach immediate agreement with Hamas and the other factions to calm the situation, to convince [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon to open a new page for the new Palestinian leadership."
Mr Amr said that in order for Mr Abbas’s approach to succeed, he will have to reduce the day-to-day suffering of the Palestinians and revive the economy.
That, he said, was dependent on Israel lifting checkpoints and curbing military operations, both of which Israel says are needed to stop attacks against Israeli targets.
"If Abu Mazen succeeds in getting a real easing of conditions, I’m sure he will create a new atmosphere and people will support his strategy," Mr Amr said
Mr Abbas, said Mr Amr, will have another request of Sharon: Dropping the demand specified in the road-map blueprint that the Palestinian Authority dismantle "terrorist capabilities and infrastructure" and instead accept a ceasefire by the armed groups. "Sharon must look at the results," Mr Amr said. "If Abu Mazen succeeds in reaching a ceasefire and containing all these groups, the Israelis must be satisfied. We will not punish any group, we will contain them by our own way, not Sharon’s way."
Mr Abbas said repeatedly during the campaign that he would persuade, not coerce the factions into a ceasefire and that civil war was a "red line" he would not cross.
But Mr Sharon made clear yesterday that this would not be enough. "The Palestinians are not fighting terror and while Abbas’s declarations in the framework of the election campaign were encouraging, he will be tested by the way he battles terror and acts to dismantle its infrastructure," he said.
Mr Sharon’s spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said a ceasefire can, at best, bring a temporary halt to terrorism. "It’s an aspirin for cancer," he said. "You can’t tell Israelis they have to have more people die so that Abbas is able to get along with the factions and establish a ceasefire."
Meanwhile, a new, more dovish Israeli coalition was last night approved by the Knesset, bringing the moderate Labour party and the ultra-orthodox Torah Judaism party into alliance with Mr Sharon’s Likud party.
The new coalition ensures a majority for Mr Sharon’s plan to withdraw the army and settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
Shimon Peres, the Labour Party leader was upbeat about Mr Abbas’s victory. "A moderate man was elected, an intelligent man, an experienced man," he said. "Let’s give him a chance."
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