Left Welcomes Abbas Speech in Ramallah, Likud Mocks Olmert

Labor: We see Abbas as partner to negotiations; says ready to wage battle against Hamas, not Palestinians.

The political responses to the swearing-in of the Palestinian parliament Saturday ranged from support for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to calls for condemnation of the new government.

After Abbas's speech, the Likud announced that "[Acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's leftist government erred throughout the Palestinian parliamentary elections. In transferring money to Hamas it continues to stick its head in the sand and avoid making critical decisions about Hamas. The continuing delay in decision-making demonstrates the weakness and hesitation of the 'Smolmert' government" [a play on Olmert and the Hebrew word for "left"].

Labor expressed support for Abbas's speech to the PA parliament: "Abu Mazen [Abbas] took a courageous step, and Labor sees him as a partner to negotiations. The Labor Party will wage an unprecedented battle against Hamas but not against the Palestinian people. The Hamas crisis has revealed Olmert in all his weakness, and he has fallen back into the extreme right-wing approach. His decision to starve the Palestinian people will encourage extremists to commit terror and will endanger the security of Israelis. Olmert's hesitation and indecisiveness hurt potential efforts toward a brave diplomatic initiative."

Labor Party Knesset candidate Shelly Yachimovich said Olmert is being influenced by the Likud's inflammatory propaganda (as expressed in video clips distributed via the Internet). She criticized the government for not "distinguishing between hungry people and terror organizations."

Meretz-Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin called on the government to respond immediately to Abbas and to promise to renew diplomatic negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization after the Israeli elections in March. "This speech is very important for the future of relations among Israel, the PA and the PLO," Beilin said. "Israel made a terrible mistake in weakening the PA and Abu Mazen in recent years. It must not repeat this mistake by making hasty decisions such as blocking aid, which will tie its hands and endanger Israeli interests before the selection of the government in the PA."

MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash-Ta'al) welcomed Abbas' speech. Barakeh attended the opening of parliament and met with Abbas afterward. "Abu Mazen sketched out a political map and extended his hand to a genuine diplomatic process. Israel must renew the peace process with the Palestinian leadership headed by Abu Mazen," Barakeh said.

Geneva Initiative Director General Gadi Baltiansky said that Olmert should promise now that if elected, he will begin negotiations with Abbas toward a final-status agreement. Baltiansky said this would express the will of most Israelis and would be met with international and Palestinian support.

"It would be the real victory of Hamas," Baltiansky said. His statements are supported by a poll commissioned by the headquarters of the Geneva Initiative showing, in light of the Hamas win, a large majority of Israelis prefer negotiations with the PA to an additional unilateral disengagement.