International observers say the Palestinian presidential vote Sunday was both free and fair despite serious problems at a few polling sites. The election is being hailed as a key step toward peace talks with Israel.

The election monitors say Sunday's election was orderly and fair, and a major achievement for the Palestinian Authority.

Former U.S. governor Christine Todd Whitman, from the state of New Jersey, was one of more than 800 international observers who witnessed the election.

She said the voting seemed to bring out the best in the Palestinian people.

"There was an underlying optimism amongst all the voters that this was a true expression of Palestinian desires, and they were proud to be able to vote and excited about the prospect for peace that this kind of democratic process was bringing to them," she said.

Close to two million people were eligible to vote across the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Election Commission confirmed Monday that Mahmoud Abbas won a resounding victory with more than 60 percent of the votes cast.

But the election was not completely trouble free. Voting in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem was marred by widespread confusion over who could vote at the official polling sites.

Election monitors said hundreds of registered voters did not appear on the appropriate voter lists and were initially prevented from delivering their absentee ballots by Israeli postal authorities.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he personally intervened to make sure everyone who tried to vote could, even if their names did not appear on official voter lists.

"Jerusalem was a terrible problem," he said. "In one site, at noon, not a single person who came to vote was permitted to vote because their names were not on the list."

But Mr. Carter and others say the overwhelming impression of the voting remains one of relative efficiency and transparency.

The election was also a rare case of close and effective cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials in recent times.

Despite some initial problems, monitors say that Israel did honor its commitment to ease travel restrictions for Palestinian voters.

And international observers say the election might help usher in a new era of mutual trust and help initiate a fresh round of peace talks.

President Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work toward ending global conflict, said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could meet with the new Palestinian leader within a few days.