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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hamas and Abbas Clash Over Path for Palestinians - New York Times

Hamas and Abbas Clash Over Path for Palestinians - New York TimesFebruary 19, 2006
Hamas and Abbas Clash Over Path for Palestinians
By STEVEN ERLANGER and GREG MYRE

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb. 18 — A new Palestinian parliament dominated by the militant group Hamas was installed here Saturday, and immediately President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas lawmakers set out on a collision course over the need to honor existing agreements with Israel and conduct negotiations with it to achieve Palestinian statehood.

In a speech to new lawmakers at his headquarters in Ramallah, Mr. Abbas congratulated Hamas on its victory but warned the legislature that it could not disavow agreements and commitments by the Palestinian leadership dating back to the late 1980's. Those include United Nations resolutions and the 1993 Oslo accords, ratified by the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, that commit the Palestinians to a peace solution based on an independent state side by side with Israel.

"We have accepted and respected the right of every individual, group or political faction to voice its complaints about the Oslo accords, but we have not and will not accept any questioning of the accords' legitimacy," Mr. Abbas said. "Indeed, from the hour the accords were endorsed, they became a part of reality to which we remain committed."

As he spoke, screens in the room carried the images of Hamas legislators taking part in the ceremony through a videoconference link in Gaza; they were barred from traveling to the West Bank because of Israeli restrictions.

"To reach a peaceful and just solution, we must resume negotiations according to the international and Arab initiatives," Mr. Abbas said. "The presidency and the government," he added, with emphasis, "will continue to respect our commitment to the negotiations as a strategic, pragmatic political choice."

But in Gaza City, Hamas leaders promptly made their opposition clear.

"There were many points of disagreement," said Ismail Haniya, a senior Hamas leader who is expected to become the group's candidate for prime minister. Mr. Abbas "was elected according to his program, and we were elected according to a different program," he said.

Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman and legislator, said negotiations with Israel "are not on our agenda." Like many Hamas leaders, Mr. Haniya and Mr. Masri consider the Oslo accords a dead letter and often cite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel as having said the same thing.

Still, on Saturday, Mr. Haniya, like Mr. Abbas, promised to deal with their differences "through dialogue and understanding, to preserve the national unity of the Palestinian people and promote their higher interests."

In warning the legislators not to reinvent the wheel of Israeli-Palestinian relations, Mr. Abbas seemed intent on showing a strong hand: in effect, reminding the group that even though it had won 74 of 132 parliamentary seats, he remains in the top Palestinian post and still has a range of powers, including his role as commander in chief of Palestinian security forces.

That message was underscored later Saturday by a statement from his spokesman, Saeb Erekat, who said that if Hamas did not cooperate, Mr. Abbas would consider replacing the group's chosen prime minister or, in the event of complete stalemate, even calling new elections.

Even the site for Mr. Abbas's speech — his headquarters, the Muqata, and not in the legislature's building in Ramallah — was a clear effort to assert symbolic control, with almost all of the legislators coming to him in person or by a videoconference transmission for the swearing-in. Fourteen new legislators were elected from inside Israeli jails and were not allowed to attend.

Fatah members entered the hall in Ramallah in suits and ties, with women in dress suits, their hair uncovered. They greeted each other warmly, with handshakes and kisses, and many members went to speak to Muhammad Dahlan, a Gazan who is considered a crucial figure in a future, younger Fatah.

The Hamas delegation in Ramallah, those elected in the West Bank, came in together and sat in a block at the back of the room; the women wore head scarves and sat together.

When Mr. Abbas finished his speech, many Fatah members stood and clapped. Many Hamas members kept their seats, and few applauded. After the speech, before they voted to elect a new parliamentary speaker, Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member and a professor of geography, many Hamas members used a corner of the hall to pray.

Mr. Dweik asked Muslim countries to step up their assistance to the Palestinians, and he said that in the next legislative session, on Feb. 27, there would be a review of laws, including a new constitutional court appointed by the president, that were passed quickly on the last day of the old legislature.

Senior Fatah legislators said Mr. Abbas had laid down clear lines to Hamas. Mr. Erekat, who was re-elected to the legislature, said Mr. Abbas had given "a firm, clear, specific speech" that set out his program, "telling Hamas what you may do in my program," which calls for a two-state solution, negotiations with Israel and the renunciation of violence in favor of "peaceful forms of resistance to the Israeli occupation."

Rawhi Fattouh, the departing Fatah speaker of the parliament, said the battle lines were clear. "This is the most critical point now in our relations," Mr. Fattouh said in an interview. "The crisis has already started on the political level."

The vision of the P.L.O. and Mr. Abbas and Fatah was now on the table, he said. "What is needed is for Hamas to move in the direction of this vision. If Hamas contradicts it, we will have two contradictory paths."

Nasser Abdaljawad, a new Hamas legislator from Salfit, said Hamas would concentrate on domestic reform and the fight against corruption and lawlessness. "We'll leave the political level for now to the P.L.O.," he said, but another Hamas legislator, Ahmad Mubarak, said, "We will go into the P.L.O. to work and to rebuild it."

Mr. Abdaljawad warned the United States and Israel against trying to undermine the new Hamas government by cutting financial assistance. "They should deal with the new reality," he said. "It's not for them to obstruct the democratic choice of the Palestinian people."

Hamas has said that the years of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were futile, and it insists that only armed resistance, including suicide bombings, drove Israel out of the Gaza Strip. The Islamic faction, which is listed by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization, has generally abided by a truce for the past year but says it will not lay down its weapons.

Israel and the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations have said that a new Palestinian government must recognize Israel's right to exist in perpetuity, forswear violence and respect previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements or face international isolation and the loss of much of its financial aid.

After the ceremony in the West Bank, Mouna Mansour, a new Hamas legislator from Nablus, said that she was happy but that she also felt "the responsibility to the nation and the people that put their trust in us." She said that the next few months would "an interesting challenge" and that she hoped other Palestinian factions would work with Hamas. But then she added, "The winner is the one who can hold on to the end." When asked whether Hamas means to win, she smiled and said, "Inshallah, God willing."

Hanan Ashrawi, who won re-election as an independent, said that Mr. Abbas's speech was an effort "to tell Hamas what is expected" and that much would depend on the response. "It wasn't a warning so much as a guide for them to succeed," she said. "if they are serious they will take it to heart." She noted that Mr. Abbas did not call for an explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist. "They don't have to become Christians," she said.

Indeed, Mr. Abbas had harsh criticism for Israel, which he accused of trying to ignore a Palestinian partner ready to negotiate peace. "The continuation of occupation and settlement expansion, recent measures targeting the Jordan Valley to isolate it from the remainder of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, the checkpoints, arbitrary killings, the separation wall and arrests will only lead to hatred, despair and continued conflict," he said.

He also appealed to Israel, saying, "We are sure there is no military solution to this conflict," and adding, "There is a Palestinian partner ready to sit with Israel at the negotiating table."

Mr. Abbas was elected in January 2005, and despite his persistent calls to resume negotiations, there has been no progress. Israel has said that the Palestinian Authority must live up to its commitment to end terrorism and dismantle armed factions as specified in the dormant peace plan, known as the road map. Instead, Israel says, the Palestinians have elected one of those factions, Hamas, turning the Palestinian Authority, according to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, into "a terrorist authority."

The Israeli cabinet will meet as usual on Sunday and will debate a list of sanctions drawn up by the security services and the Defense Ministry, although the Foreign Ministry is reportedly arguing that sanctions should be phased in and, except for cutting off money transfers, should wait until Hamas forms a government, as the United States and the European Union favor.

But Israel is in the midst of an election campaign. If it takes its measures now, the cabinet will not have to approve the payment of February's customs duties and taxes that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority, about $50 million a month.

The recommendations are aimed at an effective severing of the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip from Israel and the West Bank and include:

¶Separation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with the banning of workers from Gaza entering Israel and the movement of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza except in emergencies.

¶Restriction of the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel to basic goods, fuel, water and relief aid.

¶Cancellation of permission to build a Gaza seaport.

¶Cancellation of V.I.P. permits for Palestinian legislators, who have been able to use them to pass easily from the West Bank to Gaza.

Israel will not cut off water, fuel or electricity supplies to the Palestinian Authority, but it will continue to deduct the costs from the tax receipts held in escrow. Nor is Israel expected to immediately turn the Erez and Karni crossings from Gaza into international borders, but it is expected to study how it might be done.

Israel is ordering a review of private groups that work with the Palestinians, not including United Nations or government agencies, to see if their work can be said to benefit a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority. Israel also is looking into its ability to cut off transfers of funds from abroad, in particular from the Arab world, that Hamas may want to use to make up for the loss of tax and customs revenues.

Steven Erlanger reported from Ramallah for this article, and Greg Myre from Gaza City.

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