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Mahmoud Abbas: 'We Can't Wait'

Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page B01

Weymouth: Many say that Yasser Arafat's death is a turning point in the Middle East. Do you see it that way?

Abbas: Arafat was a symbolic leader for the Palestinian people. He did many things for the Palestinians. [The] Oslo [accord] was very difficult for our people; there was a huge opposition. I did the negotiations, but without Arafat, it would not have passed.

Q&A: Another Chance

Yasser Arafat's death has created new possibilities for Mideast peace.

Already on the table is Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. The next question: Will the Palestinians be able to provide security in Gaza after the withdrawal?

Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth talked last week with Sharon, 76, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, 69, also known as Abu Mazen. Excerpts:

Mahmoud Abbas: 'We Can't Wait'
Ariel Sharon: Stay With Road Map

How do you envision the upcoming Palestinian elections?

The elections will take place for the presidency on Jan. 9.

You're going to run unopposed for the presidency?

Until now, I'm the nominee of the central committee. But there will be many independent candidates.

In the U.S., Prime Minister Sharon is perceived as a man who has changed and is willing to abandon Gaza and the settlements in it. How do you see him?

I received many signs from Secretary of State Colin Powell and from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Sharon will help us in the elections.

He's going to let East Jerusalemites vote?

Yes, and he will facilitate the roads for our people to [vote] by easing checkpoints here and there. We will ask him when there will be official contacts to return to us the territories which were under our control before Sept. 28, 2000. . . . Then, we will resume talks with the Israelis about other phases of the redeployment and, ultimately, final status issues.

You want to resume final status talks?

Of course.

Do you like Sharon's idea of unilateral disengagement from Gaza?

We will deal with it because this is our territory. The settlements there belong to us. We have to control it and take it in our hands. We are ready to take it when we rebuild our security apparatus. If you tell me [do it] now, I say I cannot but I'm working very hard to rebuild the security apparatus. The disengagement should be part of the [Bush administration's] road map.


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