Abbas' Win Creates Mideast Hopes

Palestinian Authority President elect Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, right, meets with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, Jan. 10, 2005. Carter is in the Palestinian territories on behalf of the National Democratic Institute and the Carter Center as an observer for the Palestinian presidential elections during which Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority president by a landslide. (AP Photo//Osama Silwadi, pool) AP

Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority president by a landslide, results showed Monday, giving him a mandate to resume peace talks with Israel — but also leaving him with the tough task of reining in powerful armed groups.

Israeli leaders welcomed Abbas' victory, but said they will watch closely how hard he tries to subdue militants. Palestinians celebrated the results.

"Today is the beginning of a new future," said Sami Radwan, 55, a restaurant owner in Gaza City. "Abu Mazen [Abbas] is the right choice. He is the one who can bring us peace, good business and security."

Palestinians say Abbas' first priority should be resuming talks with Israel, reports CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein.

"I think he should extend an invitation for an immediate resumption of the peace negotiations," said Palestinian Ghassan Khatib, adding that Israel has to do its part to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or else militants will continue their attacks.

"As long as they see the continuous expansion of settlements, the continuous expansion of this occupation, they will continue resisting this occupation," Khatib said.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday presented, and won parliamentary approval for, his new center-left government, with a solid majority in favor of his Gaza pullout plan. The new government includes the moderate Labor Party, with its leader, Shimon Peres, as Sharon's second vice premier, alongside Ehud Olmert of Sharon's Likud Party. With the new coalition partners, which also includes an ultra-Orthodox party, Sharon is ensured a parliamentary majority for the pullback.

  • Israel has asked Egypt to prevent its planes from entering Israeli air space near the Red Sea resort port of Eilat, officials said, warning that if a Sept. 11-style attack is suspected, an intruding plane might be shot down. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the usual flight paths of Egyptian planes heading for Jordan cross near Eilat, but often the planes deviate from the route and enter Israeli air space. Eilat has a row of high-rise hotels.

    Israeli security forces in jerusalem were on high alert, reports Arenstein, with troops and police sweeping the area in search of a suicide bomber.

    Abbas could easily lose his political capital over a major bombing or shooting attack, and while most militant groups signaled they are willing to give him a chance, not all have signed on to a truce with Israel.

    Still, Abbas' victory in Sunday's vote held out the promise of a new era after four decades of chaotic and corruption-riddled rule by Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11. Abbas, who has spoken out against violence and has the support of the international community, promises to reform the government and the unwieldy security services.

    President Bush said Monday he would welcome newly Abbas to the White House.

    Abbas won 62.3 percent of the vote, according to final results announced by Hanna Nasser, head of the Central Election Commission.

    His main challenger, independent Mustafa Barghouti, won 19.8 percent, while the remaining five candidates scored in the lower single digits. About 3.8 percent of the ballots were deemed invalid, and 3.2 percent were blank, Nasser told a news conference.

    Nasser declined to give a turnout figure, citing confusion over the use of outdated residency records.

    Questions about voter participation are a possible point of contention between Abbas' Fatah movement, which was pushing for a high turnout, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which had called for a boycott.

    In his acceptance speech, Abbas said he faces a difficult mission, but he reiterated that he would not go after militants. Instead, he said, he wants to "give our fugitives a life of dignity," referring to those wanted by Israel.

    "I present this victory to the soul of Yasser Arafat and present it to our people and to our martyrs," Abbas added.

    After exit polls predicted a sweeping Abbas victory, cheering supporters took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza late Sunday. Gunmen fired in the air, motorists honked horns and members of Abbas' ruling Fatah movement, wearing checkered black-and-white headbands, danced in the streets.

    Hamas, the largest opposition group, announced Monday it will work with Abbas, despite misgivings about what it said were voting irregularities, including a decision to keep polls open two hours longer than planned. Hamas had called for a boycott of the election, but did not try to disrupt the vote.

    "This opens up an opportunity, in my opinion, for renewed peace negotiations, as well as justice, long overdue for the Palestinian people," said former president Jimmy Carter, who led the international monitoring team.

    Carter hopes the election leads to two sovereign nations, "hopefully ultimately becoming friends living completely at peace. That's my dream and my hope and my prayers."

    Labor leader Peres praised Abbas as a wise leader, and expressed hope that peace talks could resume with new Israeli and Palestinian governments.

    Peres congratulated Abbas in a telephone call and told the Palestinian leader he would do everything he could to help, said an official close to Peres.

    Sharon plans to meet with Abbas soon, the Israeli leader's aides said.

    Most Palestinian militant groups have indicated they are willing to consider a halt to attacks against Israel.

    However, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, who fund some Palestinian militants, are trying to sabotage a possible truce, according to people close to the group.
    • Jaime Holguin

    Comments