- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A parliament led by the militant Islamic group Hamas took power yesterday, hinting at compromise with fellow Palestinians, but rejecting an appeal by President Mahmoud Abbas to join peace talks with Israel.

Mr. Abbas, speaking as lawmakers were sworn in, insisted that Hamas deputies accept the Oslo accords, in which Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist and Israel accepts an eventual Palestinian state.

“We have not and will not accept any questioning of the accords’ legitimacy. Indeed, from the hour they were endorsed, they became a political reality to which we remain committed,” the president said. “I would like to remind members of the [parliament] — and members of the future government — of the need to respect all signed agreements.”

The militant group refused to budge, setting up a showdown between the legislature and president.

“Hamas rejects negotiations with the occupation under the current circumstances, while occupation and aggression continues,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters news agency in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas won control of parliament, capturing 74 of 132 seats in a Jan. 25 election that ended single-party rule by Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Hamas rejects the Oslo accords, and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

“The victory of Hamas has created a new reality,” said Mr. Abbas, who was elected a year ago after the death of Yasser Arafat.

An Israeli travel ban on Hamas parliamentarians from Gaza forced the Palestinians to hold a ceremony using a video feed to link lawmakers gathered at the president’s compound in Ramallah with those at the parliament building in Gaza City.

Aside from some awkward fiddling with a fussy audio connection, the Palestinians held a ceremony that featured liturgical chanting from the Koran, the singing of the national anthem and a swearing-in.

About 14 parliament members were absent from the proceedings because they are being held in Israeli jails.

After Mr. Abbas’ speech, the new parliament elected as speaker Aziz Dweik, a Hamas legislator with a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

In his address to the parliament, Mr. Dweik reiterated Hamas’ commitment to “resist the occupation.” But he also sought to sound a conciliatory tone, insisting the rivals could find their “common denominators.”

The Hamas victory shocked Israel, the Palestinians, the international community and even Hamas, which found itself unprepared to take over the reins of the Palestinian government.

Mr. Dweik pledged to reach out to all Palestinian parties in forming the government. At the same time, he warned Israel and the international community against sanctions against the Palestinians.

The Quartet of sponsors for the latest Israeli-Palestinian peace have threatened to withhold aid from the Palestinian Authority if Hamas doesn’t recognize the Oslo accords, forswear violence and recognize Israel. The group consists of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. The United States has already requested the Palestinian return some $50 million in aid.

Israel is expected to announce today a gradual reduction of ties with the Palestinian Authority in response to Hamas’ installation.

Israel is also likely to withhold customs taxes that it collects on behalf of Palestinians.

Mr. Abbas retains many powers as president, including the authority to negotiate with Israel. The prospect of divided government, however, has stoked concern about tensions among the Palestinians over control over government agencies.

Hamas will have five weeks to name a Cabinet. Lawmaker Ismail Haniyeh is expected to be named as prime minister.

Hamas leaders have said they would accept a long-term truce with Israel, not a peace agreement.

“We don’t agree with all of the policies Abbas has proposed in his speech, but we believe we can compromise through dialogue. We want to meet halfway,” said Hamas lawmaker Yasser Mansour.

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