- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

LONDON — Mahmoud Abbas, the prohibitive favorite to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, called yesterday for an end to the use of deadly weapons against Israel so as to create a suitable climate for negotiations.

Mr. Abbas had previously said the use of arms against Israelis had hurt Palestinian interests — a remark he repeated yesterday — but had not so explicitly demanded an end to their use.

It was not immediately clear how the comment in an interview with a London-based Arabic newspaper would affect his campaign for the Palestinians’ Jan. 9 presidential election, but it was liable to anger militants.

In the interview with the newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, Mr. Abbas said the intifada should continue, but that it should return to the use of tactics employed in the first such uprising from 1987 to 1993.

“The use of live weaponry has harmed the intifada and it should stop,” he was quoted as saying.

“The intifada is our legitimate right of the Palestinian people, and its purpose is to give expression to our opposition to conquest by popular and social means — as happened in the first intifada,” Mr. Abbas continued.

“We, at this stage, are against the militarization of the intifada because we want to negotiate. And because we want to negotiate, the atmosphere should be calm in preparation for political action,” he said.

Mr. Abbas also told the newspaper that Palestinian security services must be rapidly consolidated and reorganized, a demand that previously has been made by Israel and the United States.

Delays in consolidating 12 often-rival security groups have complicated previous efforts to exercise control over armed militants.

In the first uprising, which lasted seven years, Israel calculates that 236 of its citizens were killed in shootings, lynchings, knife attacks and stonings. But the Palestinians, whose death toll was far higher, portray it as a David-and-Goliath struggle pitting stone-throwing youths against Israeli tanks and live bullets.

The interview contrasted with strong praise in the Palestinian Authority’s official media for an armed attack on an Israeli border post in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Five Israeli soldiers were killed by subterranean bombs before Palestinian gunmen raked Israeli rescuers of a trapped soldier.

The Israeli government has not yet reacted to Mr. Abbas’ reported comments. However, a senior Likud party lawmaker expressed doubt in a telephone interview about Mr. Abbas’ ability to end armed attacks on Israelis.

“It’s better than saying he supports more armed violence,” said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset’s Security and Foreign Relations Committee. “But he has not shown us any sign that he has the ability or desire to take concrete steps against those wielding the weapons.”

Mr. Abbas has already held talks in Gaza City and Damascus with radical opponents of the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority. However, he has declined to say whether he called on these groups to stop all armed activity, let alone to disarm. Israel has demanded both steps as conditions for a resumption of the “road map” peace process.

Mr. Steinitz acknowledged that Mr. Abbas has in the past opposed armed violence, but maintained that this was because he found it counterproductive, rather than immoral.

“OK, it’s better than encouraging it,” he said. “He might try to stop it, but to do so he has to dismantle Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad. Maybe he will try. We don’t know what would happen once he meets resistance.”

Mr. Steinitz remained worried by Mr. Abbas’ insistence, reflected in numerous public statements, that descendants of Palestinian refugees must be allowed to repopulate Israel.

“What he is really telling us is that he is not prepared for two states. He wants not a Palestinian state and a Jewish state, but he wants us to give up part of our homeland while they can return to our part. …

“He is not ready to recognize that part of this land will be for Jews and not for Palestinians,” Mr. Steinitz said.

Palestinian observers said Mr. Abbas had been carrying out a complex balancing act with considerable aplomb.

To ensure a smooth election, he has had to dampen violence against Israeli targets from Hamas and other Islamic radicals, as well as from hard-liners within his own Fatah movement. On the other hand, being seen to appease Israeli and American concerns is considered a vote-loser.

He may have become emboldened, these observers said, by the findings of the last independent Palestinian opinion poll, which showed that popular support for suicide bombings against Israelis had dropped below 50 percent for the first time in several years.

The withdrawal last weekend of his main rival in the upcoming election, jailed Fatah West Bank leader Marwan Barghouti, may also have made Mr. Abbas feel more comfortable in making the sort of statements needed to move the peace process forward, analysts said.

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