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US, Israel Assess Middle East Peace After Arafat


Palestinian leaders wasted little time in making it clear that they intend to move ahead in the post-Arafat world. Just a day after his state funeral and an emotional burial in the West Bank city of Ramallah, officials announced Saturday that they intended to hold elections for a full-term President by January 9 as the law requires.

The announcement came amid international pressure and as an attempt to avoid a potentially dangerous power vacuum among various Palestinian groups. The first signs of trouble were witnessed Sunday when shooting broke out at a memorial reception for Mr. Arafat in Gaza City.

Former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, the man seen by many as likely to succeed Yasser Arafat, escaped injury in the incident, but two of his security officers were killed in a shoot-out with gunmen shouting anti-Abbas slogans.

Palestinian officials are playing down the incident, insisting it was not an assassination attempt. But, the security situation remains precarious and it is something Israel is worried about as well. Israeli Chief of General Staff, Moshe Ya'alon says renewed violence and stepped up attacks against Israel are likely as militant groups seek to derail a moderate Palestinian leadership.

But Israeli officials have also signaled a readiness to work with a new, moderate Palestinian administration. Prior to his departure for Washington, Foreign Minister Shalom expressed hope for a new era, more conducive to peace.

Mr. Shalom spoke of being at the doorstep of a new era. He said the Palestinians must be given time to sort out affairs without Israel's interference.

But, Palestinians want concrete actions by the Israelis to facilitate the transition and the upcoming elections. They want Israeli troops to pull back from Palestinian areas to allow for unobstructed campaigning and voting.

And, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahemd Qureia called for Israel to accept previous agreements to allow Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to vote in the balloting.

"They have the right, according to all agreements, they are part of the Palestinian people, East Jerusalem is part of the occupied territories in 1967. [The] Oslo Agreement give[s] the right for all the Palestinians of Jerusalem to vote in the elections," said Mr. Qureia.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said his Cabinet would discuss the issue.

Some Israeli officials say that since Palestinians from East Jerusalem were allowed to vote by mail in the 1996 Palestinian elections, there is no way to prevent them from voting in January. But, others say letting Palestinians, who they refer to as East Jerusalem Arabs, vote could be interpreted as a willingness to divide Jerusalem, something Israel insists it will not do. Palestinians on the other hand claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.