The Palestinian parliament on Tuesday confirmed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as prime minister, clearing the final obstacle to the launch of a U.S.-backed Mideast plan. The plan, sponsored by the "Quartet" of Mideast mediators, could be unveiled by Thursday, a diplomat said.
The confirmation - by a vote of 51-18, with three abstentions - clears the way for the unveiling of the so-called "road map" to Palestinian statehood. "I think that I can meet all my obligations in the government, for the sake of our people," Abbas said after the vote.
Earlier, Yasser Arafat urged lawmakers to approve the new Cabinet Tuesday.
"In this very sensitive and dangerous period the whole region is facing, I call your respected council to give confidence to the new Cabinet that will be presented by my brother," Arafat said, referring to Abbas.
Abbas, in his first policy speech since being tapped for his post, told legislators that there was no military solution to the Palestinians' conflict with Israel and rejected terrorism, pledging to control armed groups and confiscate illegal weapons.
"We denounce terrorism by any party and in all its forms ... because we are convinced that such methods do not lend support to a just cause like ours, but rather destroy it," he said.
But Abbas also staked out tough political positions -rejecting Israel's requests for changes in the expected "road map" to peace, and saying Israel would eventually have to withdraw from all occupied territory.
"Israel is attempting to alter the road map as we know it by entering into complicated negotiations and imposing its own interpretation," Abbas said in his speech Tuesday. "We will not negotiate the road map. The road map must be implemented."
Arafat and Abbas convened 60 legislators of the ruling Fatah party to persuade them to support the new Cabinet. In a stormy meeting that lasted until early Tuesday, many Fatah lawmakers demanded that each minister be approved individually — a demand Abbas rejected, apparently fearing that several members of his new team would be voted down.
In the end, 40 of those present indicated their support for the entire Cabinet. Fatah lawmaker Hatem Abdel Qader said he expected the Cabinet would be approved, "despite many members' reservations."
Palestinian factions react
In their first response to the statement of Abu Mazen, leaders of the Palestinian factions criticized the latter and asserted to Al Bawaba their ‘insistence on resistance’. They demanded Israeli occupation forces give the Palestinian people the chance to live peacefully, rather than [the Israeli government] give Abu Mazen a ‘margin of movement’ on condition of no armed Palestinian resistance.
Commenting on the statement, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Mahmoud al Zahhar, said Tuesday the statement “would lead to serious repercussions not just at the ‘Palestinian issue’ and domestic level alone, but also at the regional level,” referring to the statement as a ‘lay-down-your-arms’ message.
The Hamas leader was ‘stunned’ by what he described as “Abu Mazen’s failure in not denouncing the Israeli occupation and calling it the core reason for disaster in the region.” He said “Abu Mazen emphasized that negotiations are the only option for Palestinians,” adding “they proved their failure over the past 11 years.”
Zahhar requested an explanation about what Abu Mazen referred to as ‘legitimate arms’ in his statement, asserting, “The legitimate arms are those that resist occupation and not the arms of the occupiers who terrorize Palestinian people trying to defend their homeland.”
For its part, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) viewed Abu Mazen’s statement as ‘stressing’ the need to halt the Palestinian Intifada. “The Prime Minister limited the way in which we confront our conflict with Israel to negotiations only,” said Kayed al-Ghul, a PFLP leader.
“Abu Mazen should have called for the strengthening of resistance and enhancing dialogue among the Palestinian factions to draw a more cohesive plan for resistance, in view of the big failure of the ‘negotiation policy’ over the past decade,” Ghul added.
Ghul revealed to Al Bawaba that there have been previous dialogues between Abu Mazen and Palestinian factions about ‘forms of resistance’ and how to exert them. “We emphasized to Abu Mazen at meetings in Cairo and Gaza that resistance is an outcome of occupation, and so occupation has to end so that the operations against it will also end.”
In his exclusive statement to Al Bawaba, Ghul drew attention to a part in Abu Mazen’s statement regarding the Palestinian refugee issue where he (Abu Mazen) cited UN Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for a solution. Instead, Ghul said, “The solution needs to be agreed upon within the parameters of UN Resolution 194.”
On the other hand, Islamic Jihad expressed hope that Abu Mazen’s government would be able to end occupation as it claimed this its ‘top priority’.
“We hope all [political] efforts will help in removing this aggression as Arafat and Abu Mazen keep saying, particularly in view of the fact that Israel was the one that initiated aggression against us [Palestinians],” said Islamic Jihad leader, Nafez Azzam. “I don’t think anyone will disarm now that we know exactly the American and Israeli stances towards our cause,” he told Al Bawaba.
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