The election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian leader has ushered in a mood of cautious optimism in the region, although Yasser Arafat’s successor faces tough challenges ahead. “We are ready to make peace based on justice,” he told foreign observers of the presidential poll, gathered in Ramallah. “And we hope that the response will be positive.” There is already talk of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
US President George W. Bush has telephoned to invite Abbas to the White House. As well as seeking peace, the new Palestinian leader has pledged to battle widespread corruption. Abbas also has to deal with militants defying his calls to end attacks on Israel. There too, changes have taken place in the corridors of power. Parliament approved Ariel Sharon’s new coalition.
Likud has joined forces with the opposition Labour Party of Shimon Peres and a small but influential religious faction, United Torah Judaism. The alliance restores the parliamentary majority the premier lost six months ago over opposition within the cabinet to his Gaza pullout plan. Backing for his new government however marks a crucial step towards the evacuation of 8,000 settlers from Gaza and four enclaves in the West Bank.