- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

Sunday’s election, in which Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority, has the potential to become an important milestone on the road to a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. To his credit, Mr. Abbas has called on Palestinians to end armed struggle against Israel. Another positive development was the fact that the election went off without any violence or disruption.

During the campaign, however, Mr. Abbas referred to Israel as the “Zionist enemy” (a term the PLO officially dropped following the signing of the Oslo I agreement in 1993). He called for the “right of return” of millions of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in what is currently Israel — a formula for the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. Mr. Abbas suggested he would not act against terrorist groups like Hamas, and on the campaign trail late last year, he embraced Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he can work with Mr. Abbas, and President Bush has said publicly that the Palestinian leader would be welcome to visit the White House — in stark contrast to Yasser Arafat, who was ostracized by Mr. Bush because of his role in terrorism. But, all the positive atmospherics aside, there can be no genuine progress toward a settlement with Israel if Mr. Abbas fails to take action against terrorism and lawlessness in PA-controlled areas.

Israeli officials say their government will ask Mr. Abbas to immediately renew security cooperation, which was severed in late 2000, after Palestinians began firing on their Israeli partners in joint security patrols. Israel also will ask Mr. Abbas to deploy PA security personnel at locations in Gaza that are currently being used by Hamas and others to fire mortar shells and rockets into Israeli towns. If he does so, Israeli officials say, they will reciprocate. Since his election, Mr. Abbas has said nothing about what he will do.

The Israelis also say that, based on the experience during the weekend, when the Israel Defense Forces were removed from Palestinian population centers, they would be willing to talk to Mr. Abbas about making that a longer-term arrangement. Israel also wants to be sure that, when it provides information about planned terrorist attacks, Palestinian security forces take action.

Israel also wants Mr. Abbas to consolidate the 14 Palestinian “security services” created during Mr. Arafat’s tenure (many of them militias operating with no official oversight) down to three. The Israelis believe that, with roughly 30,000 people, these Palestinian security forces should be capable of stopping the ongoing rocket attacks on southern Israel. The ball is now in Mr. Abbas’ court.

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