New Palestinian parliament sworn in
Updated: 2006-02-19 11:34
A new parliament dominated by Hamas was sworn in Saturday, with Palestinian
leader Mahmoud Abbas asking the Islamic militant group to form the next
government but imploring them to honor existing peace deals and take the path of
Hamas leaders rejected Abbas' calls, but signaled
a willingness to compromise.
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, speaks during
the swearing-in session of the incoming Palestinian Parliament in the West
Bank town of Ramallah Saturday Feb. 18, 2006. Abbas demanded Saturday that
a future Hamas government honor all agreements signed by the Palestinian
Authority. At right the head of the Palestinian National Council Salim
Za'anoun and, center, outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.
In the battle for Palestinians' political future, time is short and stakes
are high: Israel is on the verge of imposing sanctions that would seal off the
Hooked up via video conferencing because Israel wouldn't let them travel
between the West Bank and Gaza, the new Palestinian lawmakers in the two
territories took their oath of office collectively, reciting a prayer with
At the back of a meeting hall in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hamas
lawmakers ¡ª the men sporting traditional Muslim beards and the women in
headscarves and long robes ¡ª held up portraits of fellow legislators sitting in
Abbas, whose Fatah Party lost Jan. 25 elections, urged the new legislature
not to endanger diplomatic gains worked out over years of painstaking talks with
Israel and the international community. Hamas controls 74 of parliament's 132
"We, as a presidency and a government, will continue our commitment to the
negotiation process as the sole political, pragmatic and strategic choice
through which we reap the fruit of our struggle and sacrifices over the long
decades," Abbas said.
He reminded the new legislators "of the need to respect all signed
agreements," including the so-called Oslo Accords of the 1990s that set up the
Hamas leaders have said they would consider agreeing to a long-term truce if
Israel withdrew from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which it captured in the
1967 Mideast War.
The White House took a wait-and-see approach to the new Hamas-dominated
"Our position on Hamas has been quite clear on what they need to do. They
must disarm, renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist," said
National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones. "We'll still continue to
watch closely and wait and see. We'll see what approach they take as they
Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said Israel will view the
Palestinian Authority as a "hostile entity" unless Hamas accepts those
"These conditions are nonnegotiable. It is not whether there will be a
short-term cease-fire or a long-term cease-fire. It is not whether they want to
eliminate us now or if they will wait 20 years to do it," Gissin said. "A
democratic victory does not provide legitimacy or a quick dry-cleaning service
to a terrorist organization."
Meanwhile, two Palestinians stabbed and critically wounded a 45-year-old
Israeli man late Saturday in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim, said
police spokesman Shlomi Saguy. The man was found bleeding on the street and told
police, just before he lost consciousness, that he was stabbed by a pair of
Palestinians, who then fled.
Abbas' words were likely to set up a political showdown with Hamas, which has
up to five weeks to form a government once it names a prime minister. It has not
formally done so although officials have said they would nominate Gaza leader
If that government refuses to heed Abbas' demand to recognize past peace
accords and accept negotiations, then Abbas, as president of the Palestinian
Authority and head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has the right to
That in turn would almost certainly trigger a parliamentary crisis, or
possibly new elections, because any alternative government would need the
support of the Hamas-led parliament.
In one of its first acts, parliament elected Hamas lawmaker Abdel Aziz Duaik
its new speaker. The outgoing speaker, Rauhi Fattouh of Fatah, handed over the
gavel, to cheers and applause.
The backdrop to all this is an Israeli Cabinet decision expected Sunday on
whether to impose sanctions that would sever virtually all contact between Gaza
and Israel, keeping out Palestinian goods and workers, and making it impossible
to travel between Gaza and the West Bank. In addition, some $50 million in
monthly tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority would be halted.
The proposed sanctions do not include humanitarian shipments into Gaza, but
they are likely to devastate the already frail Gazan economy.
The world will be watching to see if Hamas will recognize Israel and renounce
violence. If it doesn't, the Palestinians risk losing not just Israeli
dispensations but also hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. and Europe
¡ª the lifeline of the Palestinian economy.
For now, Hamas remains committed to Israel's destruction, and a leading Hamas
legislator, Mushir al-Masri, said after Abbas' speech that negotiations with
Israel are "not on our agenda."
Nonetheless, after Saturday's session, both Abbas and Haniyeh said they would
try to resolve their deep differences through dialogue.
"Why assume that there will be crisis? Let us resort to dialogue. Everything
comes through dialogue," Abbas told reporters after leaving parliament.
Haniyeh said "dialogue and understanding" should be used "to preserve the
national unity of the Palestinian people and promote the higher interests of our
Abbas' speech seemed mostly directed at Hamas, reviewing years of delicate
negotiations he said earned the Palestinians indispensable world recognition and
speaking of the need to "open up to the world" and to resist "chauvinism."
Fatah lawmakers applauded twice during his speech, when he mentioned the role
of the Palestinian woman, who, he said, "was an equal to men in martyrdom and
imprisonment, and she must be an equal to him in all rights."
And in what appeared to be a reference to Hamas' suicide bombing campaign
that killed hundreds of Israelis, Abbas said, "Let us educate our children the
culture of life, not the culture of death."
Abbas called for the PLO, which up to now has been responsible for all
negotiations with Israel, to be strengthened ¡ª a possible bypass of a Hamas-led
He also railed against Israel for what he called its "racist separation wall"
in the West Bank and its "closures, checkpoints, destruction of infrastructure,
uprooting of trees and many other measures that have turned Palestinians' life
At the same time, he said he wants to restart peace talks quickly, based on
the U.S.-backed "road map" plan which envisions a Palestinian state alongside
Israel. "Let us together make peace today, rather than tomorrow," Abbas said.
"Let us live in two neighboring states."
He called the threat of aid cuts and other sanctions "blackmail."
"The Palestinian people should not be punished for its democratic choice that
was expressed through the ballot box," he said.