Abbas ‘Ready To Negotiate’ After Vote

Published January 27, 2006, issue of January 27, 2006.
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JERUSALEM — A poll released on Israel’s Channel Two television Wednesday evening showed the ruling Fatah party winning 43% of the vote and Hamas 32% in the elections for the Palestinian parliament.

A strong showing by Hamas in the election raised the possibility that the Islamic militant group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction but has made conciliatory remarks in recent weeks, would join the Palestinian government for the first time.

Palestinians flocked to polling stations in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday.

Voter turnout was 73%, the Palestinian Central Election Commission said. In the West Bank, 70.6% of 1.3 million eligible voters cast ballots, and in the Gaza Strip, 76.8% participated in the vote. Heavy turnout had been expected to work in favor of Fatah.

Voting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that he is ready to resume peace talks with Israel, even if Hamas joins his government after the legislative vote.

“We are ready to negotiate,” Abbas said to Israeli reporters who were in the West Bank city to cover the election.

“We are partners with the Israelis. They don’t have the right to choose their partner. But if they are seeking a Palestinian partner, this partner exists,” he said.

Hamas’s strong showing on Wednesday raised the possibility of it joining Abbas’s Cabinet. Israel refuses to deal with the group until it disarms, which is something it rules out.

Earlier, Abbas praised his people for overcoming great obstacles to carry out the vote. “We are so happy with this election festival,” Abbas said. “So far, it’s going very well, and we hope it will keep going well until the end, without any troubles.”

Polls opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as 1.3 million Palestinians prepared to vote in the first parliamentary elections in a decade. The voting continued until 7 p.m.

Some 13,000 police officers were deployed at 1,008 polling stations, taking up positions on rooftops and at entrances to enforce a weapons ban.

“We do not expect violence, but we have been instructed to use force against anyone who tries to disrupt the election process,” Palestinian policeman Ibrahim Mahmoud said in Ramallah.

Shortly after polls opened, Palestinian security forces confiscated candidate lists given to voters outside polling stations in a Gaza refugee camp.

The lists were distributed by both Fatah and Hamas to tell voters which candidates to choose. Authorities confiscated the lists as people entered the voting stations; they were returned after people cast ballots.

The lists were considered a violation of a ban on campaigning that went into effect Tuesday.

Voters chose among 11 party lists and more than 400 candidates running locally in the first parliamentary elections since 1996. About 900 foreign observers, led by former President Jimmy Carter, were deployed to monitor the process.

All the Palestinian factions, with the sole exception of Islamic Jihad, were running in the elections. On Tuesday, Abbas urged Palestinians to go out and vote en masse in order to “elect a new and suitable leadership.”

Commenting on the elections, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in his Herzliya Conference address Tuesday night that Israel favors the creation of a “modern Palestinian state.” He expressed the hope that the Palestinians would not “again choose the extremists who have led them from tragedy to tragedy and to sorrowful lives.”

In response to Olmert’s speech, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “He knows that he has a [negotiating] partner, and I urge him to abandon the path of unilateralism and reach the end game with us. That is what most Israelis really want.”

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