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SHARON & ABBAS - THE VICTORS

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Wins Knesset Approval For New Disengagement Cabinet

Palestinian President-elect Mahmoud Abbas Wins Impressive Victory Taking 62% Of Vote

Analyst David Essing: ‘Future Peace Deal - Palestinian State = No Return Of Palestinian Refugees to Israel’

New Cabinet

Israel and the Palestinians are both on the move. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forged a new Israeli cabinet bound on withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. The Knesset vote was 58 in favor, 56 including 13 Likud rebels against, while 6 MKs abstained. Sharon squeaked through with the help of left wing Yachad, Arab MKs and former Shinui MK Yossi Paritsky. In another surprise vote, UTJ MK Meir Porush abstained. Meanwhile in the Palestinian Autonomy, President-elect Mahmoud Abbas took 62 % of the vote in yesterday’s historic election. Outside the Knesset, 15,000 rightwing demonstrators protested against the withdrawal.

Israel's Ariel Sharon and the Palestinians' Mahmoud Abbas have triumphed. The Knesset has approved Sharon's disengagement cabinet comprised of part of his Likud party together with left-wing Labor and the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism. The new Palestinian partner, President-elect Mahmoud Abbas took on Hamas and garnered 62 % of the vote.

The stage is now set. In Jerusalem, there is an Israeli Prime Minister from the right-wing Likud who condemns the 'occupation' and is ready for a territorial compromise leading to a Palestinian state. For the first time, a Palestinian leader condemns terrorism and apparently means it; whether he can or will do anything about it remains to be seen. But at this point, the ingredients are there for at least sitting down at the table and starting to move away from the more than four years of bloodshed and violence.The Knesset has now given Sharon back his cabinet; one which can execute next summer's withdrawal. Not only Labor and UTJ are aboard, the PM says it's only a matter of time before Shas also weighs in. In the Knesset, Sharon can also count on Shinui, Yachad and some Arab MKs for massive backing on the unilateral withdrawal.

Peres Sworn in

Sharon & Vice-Premier Peres: What kind of a team will they turn out to be? Make no mistake, Sharon is the guy in charge and when it come s to combating terrorism, he will 'keep the feet of Abbas to the fire'. However, Peres an architect of Oslo, will probably press for Israeli concessions arguing this is the way to shore up the Palestinian President against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Peres, more often than not, likes to fly solo, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if the two old political warhorses cross swords from time to time.

Micro Palestinians - Does the 62 % victory for Abbas signify that the Palestinians now back his anti-terror position? If Abbas is now talking about the 'big Jihad' leading to a Palestinian state, he will now have to start fulfilling the responsibilities of a state leader. This will mean taking charge of the fourteen different security organizations and molding them into a command structure to take on the terrorists. Sharon expects Abbas to send security personnel into the launching sites for the Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip to stop the rocketing of Israeli targets. One Israeli official says such a move could jump-start the process leading to an Israeli release of some Palestinian prisoners or some other important concession. The official says the first task will be 'to start the ball rolling' in a new direction.International Influence: U.S. President George W. Bush has made clear he will keep pressing Muhmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon; the Palestinians halt the terrorism and Israel makes life easier for the Palestinians. It is a combination of building credibility and momentum. Moreover, in welcoming the victory of Abbas, Bush repeated the need for Israel to withdraw in order to establish a Palestinian state, the payoff. The U.S. President has rejected the Dov Wiesglass view that the Gaza withdrawal will consolidate the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

  In any case, with the Knesset approval of his new disengagement cabinet, Sharon now has the governmental power to carry out the first evacuation of settlements. If Abbas proves he is ready to move on security, Sharon will coordinate the withdrawal with him.

However, if Sharon has told the Israeli people and his own followers that Israel cannot keep all of the Land of Israel, Abbas will also have to tell the Palestinians that the refugees will not be returning to the State of Israel.Over the decades, ISRAELI SETTLERS BELIEVED THEY WOULD NEVER RETURN TO THE '67 STATE OF ISRAEL WHILE THE PALESTINIANS ALWAYS BELIEVED THE REFUGEES WOULD.This now appears to be the ultimate formula for a two-state solution:Palestinian State in Territories = No Return of Refugees to State of Israel.

David Essing

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