Abbas rapped for failing to win concessions from Israel
PALESTINIAN president Mahmoud Abbas’s authority is already being questioned, just 100 days after he took over from Yasser Arafat.
Mr Abbas, who declared "the way forward will not be easy", has succeeded in forging and maintaining a ceasefire with Israel and improving the image of the Palestinians abroad. But even his supporters concede that during his brief tenure he has failed to persuade Israel to ease its strictures on movement in the West Bank and brought scant improvement in Palestinian economic and daily life - despite the hopes of voters who overwhelmingly endorsed him in January.
Israel believes strict controls are still necessary to protect its citizens.
Mamduh Nofal, a columnist for the al-Ayam newspaper, who supports Mr Abbas, said: "I cannot say that he has been successful. He has faced a lot of obstacles and problems, chief among them [the Israeli prime minister, Ariel] Sharon, who has not given him anything."
As a result of the ceasefire with Hamas and other armed groups, there have been no Israeli fatalities in March and April so far - the longest such stretch since the bloodletting started in September 2000 with the eruption of the intifada.
However, six Palestinians died during the same period, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem.
Israel has kept in place its checkpoints and obstacles that fragment the West Bank and cripple movement, citing continued threats of Palestinian attacks.
Referring to the Jewish Passover holiday, which starts tonight, Mr Abbas voiced his frustration to Israeli journalists this week.
He said: "We are happy to see the Israelis celebrating and having a good time on the holiday, but the guiding principle must be reciprocity."
Palestinians expected a rapid transfer of five West Bank cities to their control after the February summit meeting between Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, at which the ceasefire was announced.
After protracted negotiations, Jericho and Tulkarem were transferred in March, but not their suburbs. Israel then suspended the transfer of other West Bank cities, saying Palestinian forces had not met their security obligations - including disarming fugitives in Jericho and Tulkarem, something Mr Abbas disputes.
Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners after the summit, but there has been scant progress on further releases demanded by the Palestinians.
Israel also continues to build its separation barrier inside occupied territory in the West Bank and recently announced plans for the expansion of the Maale Adumim settlement, a move Palestinians say thwarts the emergence of a viable capital in East Jerusalem. Israel says the barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers.
The Israeli government has given Mr Abbas little credit for the ceasefire, stressing instead that it is being used by the militant groups to rebuild their capabilities. It has repeatedly criticised Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, for not dismantling the militias.
Zeev Boim, Israel’s deputy defence minister, said: "Our ongoing demand is that Abu Mazen must face up to the terror and strip it of its weapons - not only because he has committed himself to this in the road map [peace blueprint], but because by not doing so he is endangering the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen’s time is running out."
Uri Avnery, head of the dovish Gush Shalom peace group, said this stance was aimed at convincing Washington that Israel has no peace partner.
"Sharon is drawing the borders of Israel unilaterally according to demography, water and military requirements. He does not need or want a negotiating partner," said Mr Avnery.
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