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Palestinians in US Support Abbas Election

In Dearborn, Michigan, many Palestinians welcomed the news that Mahmoud Abbas had won the election to replace the late Yasser Arafat and perhaps bring peace and statehood to the Palestinians. VOA's Zulima Palacio is in Dearborn; Robert Raffaele narrates her report.

In Dearborn and the Detroit area, where there is one of the largest Arab populations in the U.S., Palestinians we talked with were excited that Mahmoud Abbas is the new Palestinian president. They feel he may restore a hope for peace that many had lost.

Dr. Radwan Khourny, executive Director of the Arab American and Chaldean Council, says even though the result was expected, the decisive victory gives Mr. Abbas more authority than expected.

“Mr. Abbas won big time, with over 66.3 percent and that is better than the majority,” said Dr. Khourny. “I think the Palestinians have learned that whoever is elected as a leader they will listen to. I think in reality Mr. Abbas will have a better chance to move the peace process forward.”

But the Palestinian-American community is also aware that peace, and economic prosperity will not come easily. Dr. Khoury said he does not have great expectations for a meeting between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Knowing Mr. Sharon and his legacy of 34 years, I think Mr. Sharon is a very stubborn man to negotiate with. Mr. Sharon should really come to his senses and to reality.”

Accountant Sufian Hannon says, "Bringing peace is not the effort of one side, it is the effort of both sides, even the effort of all the international community." He has great hopes for peace but says Mr. Abbas cannot do much by himself.

Among the Palestinian-Americans in Michigan there seems to be agreement that Mr. Abbas does not have a magic wand to change Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.

Imad Hamad, the regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told VOA, "Mr. Abbas as a leader cannot function if he loses trust of his own people. They voted for him, trusted him to give him a chance, so if Mr. Abbas is not to be empowered and supported and faced with true and genuine commitment from the state of Israel I don't think Mr. Abbas will go anywhere."

Mr. Hamad said that as long as the issues of Israeli occupation -- of territory the Palestinians consider theirs -- is not resolved, the conflict in the region would continue.

"As long as occupation exists, as long as people are frustrated and desperate, as long as people don't see any hope, don't feel that there is a hope and statehood, and self-determination is coming their way, I doubt Mr. Abbas could be successful and effective," says Mr. Hamad.

Nevertheless, there is a new sense of optimism in Dearborn and other places where Palestinians live.