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Possible Middle East Progress?


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UNITED NATIONS - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that the planned national unity government will recognize Israel and renounce violence, warning that failure to resolve the conflict would leave the door open to more terrorism and violence worldwide.


The Hamas-led Palestinian government that won elections in January has refused to recognize Israel, end violence, and honor past agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads.


Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly?s annual ministerial meeting Thursday that he has recently sought to establish a government of national unity ?that is consistent with international and Arab legitimacy? and that responds to the demands of the key parties promoting Mideast peace ? recognition, ending violence and honoring past agreements.


Abbas, a moderate who leads the Fatah Party, and the militant Islamic group Hamas, which currently rules alone, agreed last week to form a national unity government that would strive to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel ? implying recognition of the Jewish state.


Abbas said Thursday that they would do so.


?I would like to reaffirm that any future Palestinian government will commit to all the agreements that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority have committed to,? he said.


These include the letters of mutual recognition exchanged on Sept. 9, 1993, by the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, whom Abbas called ?the two great late leaders.?


?These letters contain mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, renunciation of violence, and commitment to negotiations as the path towards reaching a permanent solution that will lead to the establishment of the independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel,? Abbas said.


Abbas, who met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday in the first working session between high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials in four months, also welcomed recent signs that Israel might resume contacts.


?We have heard lately from the government of Israel that it will abandon the policy of unilateralism and one-sided actions,? he said. ?This is encouraging, provided that the alternative is not stagnation or the imposition of facts on the ground, but rather a return to the negotiation table and reaching a comprehensive solution to all of the permanent status issues.?


Livni struck a more conciliatory tone toward the Palestinians in her General Assembly address on Wednesday, saying the two did not necessarily have to remain at odds and the only way to resolve their conflict was at the ?bilateral negotiating table.?


?We have no illusions about the difficulties before us ? we must face them and not ignore them,? she said.


She also reiterated their desire to reopen a serious dialogue, including with the creation of a permanent channel ?to pursue ways to advance together.?


President Bush called Abbas a ?man of courage? on Wednesday for trying to revive Mideast peace talks despite a continued political stalemate with Hamas militants.


Saudi Arabia?s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Thursday that Arab countries have reached a ?very significant? consensus after the recent war in Lebanon that there must be a new start with fresh ideas to the Middle East peace process.


Also Thursday, at a Security Council meeting later Thursday, Bahrain?s Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa called for initial negotiations between Israel and the Arabs with a concrete timeframe, as well as a report from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the best way to hold those negotiations.


Abbas, who has been weakened since January when Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, warned that a failure to resolve the conflict ?will keep the door wide open to all forms of violence, terrorism, regional confrontations and global crises.?


?It is unfortunate today to see that international plans and initiatives, foremost amongst it the road map ... have reached a state of stagnation and even regression,? he added.


Abbas also called on the international community to ?provide tangible evidence that they will support the unconditional resumption of negotiations, and will provide them with a true international cover and support to ensure their success through the cessation of settlement activity, collective punishment and separation walls.?


Hamas? refusal to recognize Israel has led to international sanctions that have devastated the Palestinian economy. Israel and Western donors cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to the Palestinians.


Facing intense pressure as it has been unable to pay tens of thousands of civil servants because of the sanctions, Hamas agreed last week to form the coalition with Fatah in hopes of lifting the boycott imposed by Western countries.


The coalition talks have stalled in recent days as the U.S. seeks assurances that the Islamic militant group will renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state.


The efforts for peace were further set back this summer after militants allied with Hamas tunneled from the Gaza Strip into Israel to kidnap an Israeli soldier. The attack, which came after Israel withdrew last year from the Gaza Strip, sparked a large military offensive in the Palestinian area in which more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, most of them militants.


This looks like a good sign, let's hope that he can keep Hamas and Co. in line.

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