Just two days away from what appears to be certain victory, Mahmoud Abbas has been campaigning in Nablus to succeed the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian president. Comfortably leading the field of seven candidates, Abbas pledged to restart peace talks with Israel – contrasting with earlier campaign remarks referring to the “Zionist enemy.” His mixed messages have caused a stir in Israel and Washington, who view him as a potential negotiating partner.
Worried that he might be seen with Israeli troops around him, Abbas cancelled a campaign appearance in East Jerusalem – a sign of the tightrope he walks between moderates and militant hardliners, who have rejected his call for a truce with Israel. More than 800 international observers, including an EU mission, are on hand to ensure the vote is conducted freely and fairly. One of the most distinguished monitors is Jimmy Carter. The former US president supervised the first Palestinian Authority poll in 1996 when Yasser Arafat was elected. He said he was optimistic voting would run smoothly. Ballot boxes have been stacked in school halls, which are being transformed into polling stations. Thousands of teachers have received training to facilitate the process.