abbas arafat 248 88 AP.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Thursday that he has "no desire" to run in the presidential election in the PA territories, slated for January 24.
In a televised speech from Ramallah, Abbas said he informed Fatah and PLO officials of his decision late on Wednesday night. He said that he was planning to take other steps in the future, but did not elaborate.
PA officials said that Abbas's decision came in protest of the US administration's failure to exert pressure on Israel to stop construction work in the West Bank settlements.
They did not rule out the possibility that Abbas would change his mind, noting that his decision was not final. They also said it was too early to discuss who would replace Abbas as a candidate in the elections.
Abbas said in his speech that his decision not to seek reelection was not intended as a manipulation or maneuver.
The two-state solution was facing "many dangers," he said.
Addressing the Israeli public, he said: "Peace is more important than any achievement for a political party. Peace is more important than any government coalition. For many years, my opinion and vision have been that peace was still possible and I have sincerely worked to achieve this goal."
Abbas said that he still believes in the two-state solution despite the "many dangers" facing this option.
The PA president outlined eight main principles for achieving peace in the region: the implementation of all UN resolutions pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict, an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, making east Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state, solving the problem of the Palestinian refugees on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, removal of "illegal" Jewish settlements, reaching security arrangements along the border between the Palestinian state and Israel, the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and solving the problem of water in accordance with international laws.
Abbas criticized Israel for its policy of settlement construction and demolition of illegal houses. He also criticized the US for endorsing a more conciliatory approach toward the issue of settlement construction. In addition, Abbas accused Hamas of playing into the hands of Israel by refusing to sign a "reconciliation" accord with Fatah in Cairo last month.
Abbas's close aides explained that he did not close the door completely to the possibility of reconsidering his decision. One aide noted that Abbas did not state in his speech that his decision was final.
"The president only said that he has 'no desire' to run in the election," the aide told The Jerusalem Post. "This means that he hasn't made a final decision and was leaving the door open for all options."
Muhammad Shtayeh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that he too did not rule out that Abbas would eventually change his mind.
"If there's a real change in the peace process, I believe that President Abbas will reconsider his position not to seek reelection," Shtayeh said. He added that several Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, had phoned Abbas in the past few days urging him to run as head of Fatah in the presidential election.
Shtayeh said that the PA leadership does not want the Arab and world leaders to call Abbas to ask him to seek reelection. "We want them to put pressure on Israel if they want stability in the Middle East," he said. "Abbas represents the two-state peace strategy and his absence from the scene would be regarded a severe blow to this vision."
Shtayeh attributed Abbas's decision to three factors: the change in the US administration's policy vis-a-vis the settlements, failure of the Arab leaders to back the PA leadership in its confrontation with Israel and the US, and strong criticism of Abbas following his decision to withdraw a motion that was presented to the UN Human Rights Council regarding the Goldstone Report into Operation Cast Lead.
Another senior Fatah official, Nabil Sha'ath, attributed Abbas's decision to his "deep disappointment with the international community, including the Arab world."
Sha'ath said that Abbas was particularly disappointed because he did not achieve anything through negotiations with Israel despite his commitment to the road map plan for peace in the Middle East.
"President Abbas repeatedly declared his willingness not to run in the upcoming elections, because of his deep disappointment with the US policy toward the peace process," he said. "This is a clear message to the Israelis and Americans."
Fatah legislator Husam Khader said that Abbas's speech shows that the Palestinians have other options, such as armed struggle against Israel or dissolving the PA. He said that Abbas could be the last Palestinian leader willing to talk to Israel.
Hamas said that Abbas's speech was mainly directed toward his "friends in the US and Israel."
Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, said he did not rule out that the speech was part of a show orchestrated by Abbas's advisers. He said that the Palestinians were hoping that Abbas would declare the failure of the Oslo process instead of focusing on his personal decision not to run in the election.
Abbas's decision is meant to "warn his American and Zionist friends," another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said on Thursday.
"He wants to let them know he's not happy with them," Zuhri said.
The Hamas spokesman went on to urge Abbas to "face the Palestinians, and tell them honestly that negotiations have failed."
He said that the PA president should bring all talks with "the occupation" to a halt, and take "practical steps toward reconciliation."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed hope that despite Abbas's announcement, efforts to renew negotiations and achieve a regional peace deal would not be undermined. Barak said that he believes it is important that both sides still believe in the two-state solution. At the same time, he said, while Israel will make every effort to achieve peace it will do so while ensuring the security and safety of its citizens.
The White House praised Abbas. "Whatever he decides, we look forward to continuing to work with him and to continue in that collaboration to make the lives of Palestinians better," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Thursday.
"We have tremendous respect for President Abbas. He has been an important and historic leader for the Palestinian people and a true partner for the United States," Gibbs said.
Yaakov Katz, Tovah Lazaroff and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.