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Abbas Says Hamas Will Likely Soften Stance on Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh meet in Gaza. Abbas says Hamas had illusions when it took office.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh meet in Gaza. Abbas says Hamas had illusions when it took office. (Pool Photo By Ali Ali -- Getty Images)

Abbas said a final agreement would depend on Israel's pulling back to the boundaries that existed on the eve of the 1967 Middle East war, during which it occupied the West Bank and Gaza. That would require Israel to give up its largest settlement blocs and East Jerusalem, conditions rejected by many Israeli politicians who will likely play leading roles in the next government.

In an April 2004 letter to Sharon, President Bush wrote that "in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return" of Israel to those borders. But Abbas said he has been assured by U.S. officials that the Bush administration supports his position.

"I don't think Gaza is like the West Bank," Abbas said. "In the West Bank, they want to demarcate the line of the border and say this is your state, and they want that state inside the wall, without negotiations. This is something else, something different. I don't think anyone from the outside will accept such a policy."

Abbas, who was elected president in January 2005 following Yasser Arafat's death, appeared relaxed throughout the talk, even as Israeli artillery pounded northern Gaza in an attempt to stop Palestinians from firing homemade rockets into southern Israel.

He said he did not intend to resign, despite previous indications he might if he could not fulfill his political program, which hinges on achieving a peace agreement with Israel.

Abbas said he would give Hamas, whose cabinet was sworn in on March 29, a fair chance to prove itself in government because "you cannot say you failed after two days or a week."

But at the same time, he has begun defining his own powers as Hamas officials, in his words, have begun displaying signs of "confusion in their political positions." He cited the contradictory statements that Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar gave to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan this week about whether Hamas would ever accept a two-state solution.

"I believe they should quickly change their attitude and positions," Abbas said. "Otherwise, there will be a real catastrophe for Palestinian society."

In the meantime, Abbas said, the Fatah movement that he has been a part of for more than half his life is reforming itself, chastened by the January defeat that ended its long monopoly on power.

Fatah candidates and others affiliated with the party who ran as independents actually received a majority of the popular vote. But in many individual district races, Fatah-affiliated candidates competed against each other, dividing the vote and ensuring a Hamas parliamentary majority. Abbas said the results showed that "the people are still in a moderate mood."

"I should not be blamed for bringing democracy, I should be praised," Abbas said. "If democracy brought Hamas, it is not my mistake. It is Fatah's mistake because they ran in the elections divided."


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