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Mahmoud Abbas: Campaign Statements Raise Concerns About Commitment to Peace

(December 2004)

“I will not use weapons against any Palestinian,” Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) said on December 25, 2004. “Israel calls them [the armed groups] muderers, but we call them strugglers.” A week later, Abbas said he would shield Palestinian terrorists from Israel and that he has no plans to crack down on them after the presidential election scheduled for January 9, 2005.

On January 4, 2005, Abbas escalated his anti-Israel rhetoric after an Israeli tank fired two shells into a field in response to Palestinian mortar attacks, killing seven Palestinians and wounding six. Referring to those who attacked Israel as “martyrs,” Abbas condemned Israel as the '“Zionist enemy.”

In an earlier interview with the Associated Press, Abbas defended a series of campaign appearances with gunmen, saying the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility to protect its people. “When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them,” Abbas said. “This debt always is to protect them from assassination, to protect them from killing....”

Earlier, Abbas had launched his election campaign by saying “the use of weapons is unacceptable because it has a negative impact on our image.” The Wall Street Journal editorialized afterward that “It's an instructive choice of words. Mr. Abbas does not reject terrorism because it is immoral, but because it no longer sells the cause abroad.”

In his Christmas Day speech, Abbas called on Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners, including murderers and said this was a condition for reaching peace with Israel.

On the issue of Jerusalem, Abbas said the city would be the capital of a future Palestinian state. “At the Camp David summit, the Palestinian leadership rejected an Israeli proposal to share sovereignty over the Aksa Mosque,” he said. “They wanted to give the Muslims all what is above the mosque, while Israel would control what's under it. We continue to reject this offer. We cannot compromise on Jerusalem.”

On the subject of Israel's disengagement from Gaza, Abbas insisted that “The withdrawal from Gaza must only be part of other withdrawals which should follow. Israel must pull out of all Palestinian lands occupied in 1967. We must end the occupation.”

In the same speech Abbas said that the refugee issue had to be solved on the basis of UN Resolution 194. According to Abbas, there are 4.5 million Palestinian refugees. In a January 3, 2005, appearance, Abbas said Palestinian refugees and their descendants from the two-year war that followed Israel's creation in 1948 have the right to return to their original homes. “We will never forget the rights of the refugees, and we will never forget their suffering. They will eventually gain their rights, and the day will come when the refugees return home," Abbas told a cheering crowd in Gaza City.

On a visit to the Jabalya refugee camp on January 2, 2005, Abbas spoke out against Kassam rocket attacks against Israel, saying they were “useless” and that, “in return, there is a grave, a very grave Israeli escalation.” While he reiterated his view that the firing of rockets is a “mistake,” the next day he also said that Palestinians who attack Israel are “freedom fighters” and that “Palestinians won't take up arms against each other.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he found remarks by Abbas “disturbing.” Powell said the Palestinians must end terror. “If they don't move in that direction, then we're going to be stuck again. So we need reformed Palestinian leadership that deals with this terrorist threat,” Powell told NBC's “Meet the Press.” Powell added that Abbas may have to do more than just try to persuade terrorists to stop their violence. “He may have to undertake operations against them. If he does that, and shows a real commitment to end terror, I think he will find an Israeli partner ready to work with him, and he will certainly find the international community, and especially the United States, ready to play an important role,” Powell said.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, have tried to downplay statements by Abbas, maintaining that he would ultimately be judged by his actions, not his words, in providing security and fighting terrorism.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, (December 27, 2004, January 2 & 4, 2005); Wall Street Journal, (December 31, 2004); AP, (January 1 & 3, 2005)