Jerusalem responded cautiously to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's call for new elections, with some officials welcoming it and others wondering whether he has the capacity to carry it out.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, "Israel and the prime minister have stated clearly their support for the moderates in the Palestinian Authority, those who envision a Palestinian state alongside Israel and who are willing to achieve that vision through negotiations and not through violence. The prime minister has stated openly that he sees Abbas as a moderate."
Eisin said Israel hoped that any PA government would accept the Quartet's three principles: recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous agreements.
Sources in Jerusalem were highly skeptical of Abbas's ability to pull off new elections, pointing out that his words came at a time when Fatah was falling apart.
"Abbas's statement was moderate," one source said, "but it is unclear how much backing he has, and whether he is willing to assert his power."
In Cairo, British Prime Minister Tony Blair backed Abbas and called on the world to support him. Blair said Abbas had tried hard to work with Hamas but "is also signaling his determination to move on without them if they are unwilling or unable to play a constructive part."
The Russian Foreign Ministry urged Palestinians in a statement to preserve national unity.
"Israel has a stake in what happens between Fatah and Hamas," former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, adding "it is dangerous for Israel and the region for Hamas to completely dominate Palestinian society."
While "Fatah has needed to get its act together and hasn't," Ross said, he believes that "Abu Mazen [Abbas] has made it clear that Hamas has contributed to the many woes the Palestinian people face."
Calling Abbas's speech "an effort to interfere with Hamas's plans [to control Palestinian society]," Ross said foreign powers, including Israel and "moderate Arab governments such as the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians," could help Abbas in this effort.
"The speech is an indicator that there's recognition that what Hamas is doing represents no future for the Palestinian people," he said.â€¢