Accessibility links

Europe Welcomes Abbas Election

  • Roger Wilkison

European governments, eager for a role in Middle East peacemaking, have welcomed the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the undisputed leader of the Palestinians. Europeans see Mr. Abbas' victory as a sign that Palestinians want to reform their government and find a negotiated solution with Israel.

Messages of congratulation to the new Palestinian leader poured forth from European capitals.

French President Jacques Chirac says the choice of Mr. Abbas gives rise to new hope for peace in the Middle East.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says his country and other European Union members will do everything possible to help Mr. Abbas create an independent, viable and democratic Palestinian state. He says he hopes the Palestinian people will follow Mr. Abbas' rejection of violence and his pursuit of reforms to Palestinian institutions.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is also hopeful that Mr. Abbas' victory will fuel the momentum for peace.

"The Palestinian people have already demonstrated their commitment to democracy," he said. "The challenge now is for the new president to use his mandate to lay the foundations for a future palestinian state that we want to see emerge in the context of a final settlement."

European news media reflected the hope, mixed with wariness, that the election provides a new window of opportunity for peacemaking.

The conservative French daily Le Figaro played up the fact that Mr. Abbas has condemned anti-Israeli suicide attacks and suggested "that a new dynamic, which turns its back on violence, is perhaps being born."

The Times, of London, said that rarely has so much been expected of a leader with so little time to achieve it.

Israel says Mr. Abbas is as an acceptable negotiating partner, unlike his late predecessor Yasser Arafat, but has made it clear that he must crack down on Palestinian militant groups before peace talks can be revived. One EU official warns that Mr. Abbas will not have the credibility needed to stop violence unless Israel pulls back its forces from Palestinian areas and stops settlement building in the West Bank.

Other Brussels-based diplomats say Mr. Abbas' biggest challenge is to make life easier for Palestinians, who are tired of violence, corruption, and poverty as well as the presence of Israeli troops in their areas.

With Europeans, seen as pro-Palestinian by Israel, frozen out of the peace process, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier says the United States has a responsibility to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. He says the United States must ensure a successful Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and set up talks leading to an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Mr. Barnier told the International Herald Tribune that a stepped up U.S. role in Mideast peacemaking will be the first test of a new post-Iraq relationship between the United States and Europe.