Israel's cabinet adopted a series of measures Sunday, aimed at facilitating Palestinian elections on January 9.
The Israeli cabinet's approval of the measures means Palestinians will be given far greater freedom of movement than they have known for the past four years. It also allows candidates limited campaigning in East Jerusalem, and orders the Israeli military to pull out of all Palestinian population centers in the final days before the vote.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the cabinet approval greatly important. He said it is important to make it clear to the whole world that Israel allowed free, fair and efficient elections.
The cabinet decision to allow Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem has limits. Candidates will be allowed to hang posters and distribute campaign literature, but rallies in public places are not going to be permitted. Palestinians will be allowed to conduct a survey in East Jerusalem to determine who is eligible to vote, but only those Palestinians with West Bank residency will be allowed to register. Israel adopted similar policies during the last Palestinian presidential election in 1996.
Israel and the Palestinians both want Jerusalem as their capital. Resolving those competing claims is one of the greatest obstacles to a peace agreement.
Prominent Palestinian figures appealed on Sunday for an end to violence, adding weight to the election campaign of moderate Mahmoud Abbas to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas, a former Palestinian prime minister, launched his campaign on Saturday, promising to pursue a peace agreement with Israel and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. In a speech Sunday, he said it is unacceptable to use arms to achieve Palestinian independence.
The remarks to a group of some 200 Palestinian businessmen seemed moreconciliatoryin tone than remarks he made Saturday, in which he said he would not take up arms against Palestinian militants to get them to stop violence against Israel. Mr. Abbas said he would try to convince militants to end violence, but by agreement, rather than by confronting, or arresting them as was done in 1996.
Israel has signaled their intention to work with Mr. Abbas, a man they see as amoderate.