Abbas Begins Election Campaign Citing Arafat's Legacy

Arnon Regular, Haaretz Correspondent, and the Associated Press Haaretz - December 26, 2004

Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) began his public bid to succeed the late Yasser Arafat at a rally Saturday in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, near Ramallah.

Hundreds of supporters turned up to hear the candidate for the post of chairman of the Palestinian Authority announce that the Palestinians would adhere to the UN Resolutions 242 and 194 in order to claim their rights for a Palestinian state through a negotiated peace.

"We are loyal to the national principles and demand the removal of the separation fence and an end to settlements. We will not accept settlements, and that includes Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel," Abbas said.

One of the most dominant aspects of the Abbas campaign, in anticipation of the January 9 elections, is the link to Yasser Arafat. Though the two had a troubled relationship, culminating in the resignation of Abbas as Prime Minister four months after being appointed by Arafat, Abbas stressed he would preserve the Arafat legacy and deliver on his promise of Palestinian statehood.

Abbas called on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and said he favored a negotiated peace settlement and promised to respect the rights of Palestinian refugees.

"We are choosing the path of peace and negotiation," said Abbas. "If there is no peace here, there will be no peace in the Middle East or the rest of the world."

Abbas appears alongside Arafat in campaign posters and advertisements that ran in Palestinian newspapers yesterday. "Comrades in revolution," read one poster of the two men.

More than a dozen speakers - religious leaders and representatives of student groups, refugees and people injured during the four years of fighting with Israel - introduced Abbas, nearly all of them invoking Arafat's legacy and praising Abbas' commitment to follow in his path.

"Out of respect for Arafat, we are with Abu Mazen," Taissir Tamimi, a top Islamic cleric, said.

In his speech, Abbas called for a moment of silence for Arafat, saying no one could fill the void he left.

"Whatever you said on various occasions, whatever you talked about in different meetings... is your will, and it is our duty to carry it out as long as we live," he said, symbolically addressing Arafat.

Israel and the United States have quietly supported Abbas, whom they see as a pragmatist.

He appealed for Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners, especially jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti, a Fatah rival of Abbas', pulled out of the race under intense party pressure.

Abbas also pledged to resolve the problem of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, calling the issue "very important and very dangerous."

Militant group Hamas welcomed Abbas' speech, including his call for legislative elections, but urged him to follow through. "What is important for us is the implementation and the translation of these promises from words to deeds," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Human-rights activist Mustafa Barghouti, who is running a distant second to Abbas in opinion polls, kicked off his campaign with his own effort to harness Arafat's popularity, laying a wreath at the late leader's tomb.

"Put the cause in safe hands," Barghouti says in one ad, a picture of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque in the background.

With the powerful Fatah party machinery behind him, Abbas is expected to coast to victory.

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