Magazine article The Middle East

Comment: Less Than 24 Hours after Being Sworn in as the New Palestinian Leader, Mahmoud Abbas Was under Criticism for Failing to Rein in Violent Palestinian Extremists

Magazine article The Middle East

Comment: Less Than 24 Hours after Being Sworn in as the New Palestinian Leader, Mahmoud Abbas Was under Criticism for Failing to Rein in Violent Palestinian Extremists

Article excerpt

HIZBULLAH HAS CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ATTACK that so drastically altered the balance between hope and despair. Within days of the suicide bombing that killed six Israeli civilians at a Gaza crossing point where food and other essential supplies move between Israel and the Occupied Territories, Prime Minister Sharon suspended all contact with Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, prompting international press reports that the honeymoon between Israel and the newly-elected Palestinian president was already over. Honeymoon? What honeymoon? These two had barely got up the aisle!

"Despite the change in the Palestinian leadership, we have yet to see them taking any action whatsoever to halt the terrorism," Sharon told his ministers. "The army and the security forces have been instructed to increase operational activity to stop terrorism and they will continue to do so without restrictions--I emphasis without restrictions--so long as the Palestinians don't lift a finger," he said.

Sharon's response to the first fatal attack after Mahmoud Abbas's election victory may have been made with the intention of spelling out to the Palestinians, and to his own electorate, that he was starting as he means to go on. However, at least some members of his new coalition government believe the prime minister acted somewhat hastily in freezing relations with Abbas. "I think we have to give him an opportunity to take control," said Shalom Simhom, the environment minister from the centre-left Labor Party.

Professor of political science at Israel's Bar-Ilan university, Gerald Steinber believes the Israeli prime minister is acting tactically. "Sharon has a very critical domestic audience, and he needs to persuade them that he has things under control. I think he is also telegraphing a message to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people that a major Israeli incursion into Gaza could take place," Professor Steinber observed. …

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