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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Abbas extends hand - or finger - to Israel?

In his speech inaugurating the Palestinian unity government, PA President Mahmoud Abbas claims to have extended the hand of peace to Israel. He also told the Palestinian parliament that the Palestinians reject violence. Nonetheless, the Qassam rocket continue to fall, soldier Gilad Shalit is still in captivity and Abbas heads a government that is committed to never making peace with Israel under any circumstances. The "peace" deal that Mr. Abbas offers Israel must include, he says, "return" of the Palestinian Arab refugees to Israel, a condition that would mean the end of the Jewish state.
So the question is, whether Abbas has extended a hand of peace, or only given us the finger.
What Abbas calls the "national unity wedding" takes on a different complexion when one considers that he has abandoned every one of his principles to allow Fatah to join the new government. In this wedding, he is the bride, and we know what happens to brides after the wedding.

Last update - 13:13 17/03/2007   

Abbas urges end to siege, extends hand to Israel
By Haaretz Service and Agencies

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas urged the world Saturday to lift an international boycott at the advent of the unity government between his Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas, and said that the Palestinians were "extending" a hand to Israel.
"This national unity wedding has received an Arab and international welcome, which we hope will be transformed into practical steps to end the siege," Abbas said in an advance text of his speech to lawmakers meeting to approve the cabinet.
The PA chairman said the Palestinians are "extending our hand wide open, calling for peace of equality" with Israel. But, he warned, the settlements, the separation fence and the siege "will not lead us to convergence, it will lay more obstacles on the road to peace."
Abbas was speaking as the new government was to set to clear a final formal hurdle Saturday, with approval from the Palestinian parliament.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, speaking after Abbas, said that the new government emphasized the Palestinian right to resistance "in all forms."
The PA chairman called on the Arab League, which is set to convene at the end of the month, to resist making any changes to the 2002 Saudi peace initative, and called on the League to re-adopt the plan. Israel has called for some changes to the initiative, but said that it could serve as a good starting point for negotiations.
Abbas told parliament that the Palestinian people reject violence in all its forms and "call for mutual commitment by Israel to stop all violence."
The new manifesto, finalized late Friday and containing some softer language than the draft published earlier in the week, still falls short of the international community's three demands, including explicit recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence.
Haniyeh said that the government "stresses that resistance in all forms is a legitimate local right of the Palestinian people, granted and secured under all international conventions and agreements."
"Our people have the right to defend themselves from continuous
Israeli agression," he added.
He said, however, that the new government would work to expand its cease-fire with Israel.
He reiterated the commitment to the right of return for Palestinian refugees and called for the implementation of United Nations resolution 194, which deals with the refugee issue.
The prime minister also said that the new government would "work toward a speedy solution" of a prisoner swap for Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since June.
The government will work first and foremost to establish an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty on all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, Haniyeh said in his speech.
Moments after Abbas brushed aside international misgivings over Fatah joining forces with Hamas, saying it is the only way to avert a civil war, Haniyeh also addressed these misgivings in his speech, acknowledging that the new government's path will be a difficult one.
"The challenges are many, and so are the difficulties," he said. "Those who wait for mistakes are many. ... All are waiting to see what the national unity government will offer, will it be up to the challenge," he added.
Haniyeh was to present the platform at the start of the parliament session, held simultaneously in Gaza City and in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Palestinian lawmakers cannot meet in one place because of Israeli travel bans. The two gatherings were hooked up by video conference.
According to the program, the coalition's main goal will be to set up a Palestinian state in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, said incoming Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti, an independent.
The government respects previous international agreements reached by the PLO and calls for peace talks to be conducted by Abbas. Any future deal could be submitted to a national referendum, suggesting that the Islamic militant Hamas will not be given veto power.
The government platform calls for expanding the Gaza cease-fire with Israel, yet also affirms resistance in all its forms, especially non-violent resistance to occupation.
The reference to resistance was part of the draft, in an apparent nod to Hamas, while the phrase non-violent was introduced later.
Barghouti said he expects the program to open doors for the new government.
"This program provides an opportunity for peace and reconciliation. It should provide a powerful base for ending the embargo on the Palestinian Authority," he said.
Later Saturday, Abbas is to swear in the coalition, formed after months of stop-and-go negotiations interrupted by periods of deadly Hamas-Fatah fighting that claimed more than 140 lives. Brushing aside international misgivings about Fatah joining forces with Hamas, Abbas has said it's the only way to avert a civil war in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel announced earlier this week, reacting to the draft program published on web sites, that it would not deal with the new government. On Friday, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel would explain to the countries of the world that they can't work with a government like that.
Among the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia - the most positive reaction to the new coalition has come from Moscow.
"It is inarguably an important event in terms of consolidation of the Palestinian ranks," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement, noting that the Palestinian power-sharing deal took into account the Quartet conditions.
The U.S. was more cool. White House spokesman Tony Snow, saying he did not want to express disappointment, indicated Thursday that there would be no change in the U.S. administration's refusal to deal with the Palestinian government unless its platform changed.
"Our position has been consistent, which is, you need a Palestinian government that is going to, in fact, abide by the Quartet conditions," Snow said.
Nonetheless, a U.S. offcial said Saturday that while it would not deal directly with Hamas, it would be willing to talk to the incoming finance minister, Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist.
Barghouti also said Saturday that the Palestinians have received positive signs from Europe that the boycott might be eased.

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