Abbas Appeals to Hamas as Parliament Opens
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The Palestinian Parliament opened this morning in Ramallah, with the Islamist militants of Hamas now in a clear majority, 74 of 132 seats. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President and de facto leader of the former ruling party Fatah Party, spoke to the legislators and called on them to continue negotiations with Israel.
NPR's Eric Westervelt was there. Eric, thanks for being with us.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And I gather the response from the Hamas members of Parliament wasn't notably enthusiastic to what Mahmoud Abbas said.
WESTERVELT: No. Many of the members we spoke to right after Mahmoud Abbas' speech said it was a great speech, but we were elected on a different political agenda and different path. And they believe that they have kind of a mandate from the Palestinian people to take a different tack.
Hamas rejects the Oslo Peace Accords and the U.S.-backed Roadmap Peace Plan, which Abbas called on the incoming Hamas government to abide by. Legislators we spoke to said Hamas will only consider a long-term truce with Israel, Scott, only after Israel completely pulls back to its pre-1967 war borders; and that's something the Israeli government has repeatedly said is unacceptable. So it's something of a collision path, perhaps, between Mahmoud Abbas, who remains as President, and the incoming Hamas government.
SIMON: Did Mr. Abbas say anything that seemed to be reaching out to the Hamas members of Parliament at the same time to try and keep his own political fortunes up?
WESTERVELT: He reached out a little bit, but he also made an oblique reference to peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation, which just was met by tepid applause by his own Fatah members, but which Hamas members certainly did not applaud. He had a message certainly for the Israeli government as well. He called on the Israelis to stop quote "the checkpoints, the arbitrary killings, the separation wall and arrests which will only lead to more hatred, despair and continued conflict," end quote.
So his speech had many different audiences, certainly the Israeli public, the Palestinian public, and the incoming Hamas government.
SIMON: Mr. Abbas is speaking at a time when every legislator there must be confronting the prospect that aid is going to be cut off, aid that comes from the United States, Western Europe, other United Nation member states, and for that matter tax revenues from Israel. Did he say anything that was responsive to that?
WESTERVELT: Yeah. They're very concerned, both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, about tax revenue being reduced. This is money Israel takes and transfers to the Palestinian authorities that they use to pay the salaries of the Palestinian authority workers. And Abbas warned against Israel cutting off that transfer of what is Palestinian funds, saying that this is collective punishment if it happens for the Palestinian people who have made a democratically elected, democratic choice. And Hamas members in the audience echoed that concern, saying there shouldn't be collective punishment, and Mahmoud Abbas called any cut-off of that aid quote "blackmail."
SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt at the opening of the Palestinian Parliament in Ramallah today. Thanks a lot.
WESTERVELT: You're welcome.