Mahmoud Abbas says Palestinians 'ready for peace' with Israel
Hamas says will work with Abbas, after final tally shows he won 62% of vote; Mustafa Barghouti far behind with about 20 percent.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that the Palestinians are "ready for peace" with Israel.
Abbas, speaking a day after his election as Palestinian Authority chairman, said he is eager to resume peace talks with Israel. "We extend our hands to our neighbors," he said. "We are ready for peace, peace based on justice. We hope that their response will be positive."
Abbas called for a resumption of peace talks based on the internationally-backed road map peace plan.
Also Monday, Hamas, the largest Palestinian opposition group, announced it will work with the new Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who took an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote in Sunday's election to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
The militant group said that it had misgivings about what it called 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.
Final election results tallied Monday showed that Palestine Liberation Organization chief Abbas won 62.3 percent, Palestinian election officials said.
Such a margin of victory would give Abbas a clear mandate to renew peace talks with Israel, rein in militants and reform the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority.
Abbas' main challenger, independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti, won about 20 percent, and five other chairmanship candidates - ranging from a Marxist ex-guerrilla to an academic under U.S. house arrest on suspicion of funneling funds to Hamas militants - scored in low single digits.
Abbas declared victory on Sunday, on the basis of exit polls showing him winning with a comfortable margin. He dedicated his victory to Yasser Arafat.
"We offer this victory to the soul of the brother, martyr Yasser Arafat and to all Palestinians," Abbas told a jubilant rally of his Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday.
"There is a difficult mission ahead to build our state, to achieve security for our people... to give our prisoners freedom, our fugitives a life in dignity, to reach our goal of an independent state," he said in to hundreds of cheering supporters.
Abbas supporters celebrated in the streets of Ramallah, honking car horns, waving flags and holding his portrait aloft.
U.S. President George W. Bush said the Palestinian election marked an essential step toward the goal of statehood and promised to help the new president in a renewed push for peace talks with Israel.
"I think this vote shows a change in the Palestinian street" moving away from support of violence, said Sharon aide Ra'anan Gissin. "We certainly welcome this and hope that from this mandate Abu Mazen will lead the Palestinian people on the path of reconciliation," he added.
Increasing concerns of voting fraudConcerns of voting fraud during the election remain an issue.
Due to a low voter turn out, the PA relaxed voting regulations, prompting the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the camp of Abbas' leading opponent, human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti, to claim that they may have been widespread voter fraud.
Around 5 P.M. Sunday, the Palestinian Central Election Committee extended the voting to 9 P.M. and also allowed Palestinians to vote solely based on their identity cards, without any need to check them against the voter roll or population registry.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights decided to petition the Palestinian High Court against the decision.
Haaretz has learned that some voters cast their ballots in areas where they do live. Voters were marked with a special ink - but one international observer said that the ink was found to be highly problematic in recent elections in Africa and Afghanistan as it wipes off after an hour or two.
The voting went relatively smoothly, though in East Jerusalem there was some initial confusion at the Israeli post offices where East Jerusalem residents were allowed to vote.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, one of 800 international monitors of the first Palestinian chairmanship election since 1996, said it appeared Israel was keeping to its promise to ease the passage of Palestinians at military checkpoints.
"There is no [Israeli] intimidation I have seen," Carter told reporters after visiting checkpoints near Jerusalem.
One of the leaders of the official U.S. observer team, Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Delaware), said Sunday morning that the elections appeared "well-organized."
"This could be an election back in the States so far," he said.
Abbas said Sunday morning that the elections were going smoothly, showing that the Palestinians are moving toward democracy.
"The elections are going very well and this proves that the Palestinian people are moving towards democracy," Abbas said after casting his ballot in the Muqata headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, under a portrait of Arafat. "There are obstacles, but the determination of the people is stronger."
"We heard that there is a high turnout, especially by women, and this is a very good thing," Abbas said.
Shalom: War on terror should begin day after electionForeign Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday it was in Israel's interest for the elections to go smoothly, saying this would enable the newly elected Palestinian leader to fight terrorism immediately.
Israel hopes the elections do not hit any snags, "so that starting from tomorrow, the new Palestinian leadership will be able to do what it is required to do," Shalom told reporters in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. "I think that the leader who is elected will have to wage a genuine struggle against terror immediately and carry out reforms [in the PA]."
"Of course, we expect a new, different Palestinian leadership that will be prepared to move in the direction of peace," Shalom said.
According to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, only once Abbas shows his seriousness in fighting terrorism will it be possible to know the degree of the coordination with the Palestinian Authority that Israel will be willing to assume during the implementation of the disengagement plan.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials announced Saturday that a parliamentary election would be held on July 17.