Palestinians rejoice over collapse of Likud, reject Olmert's pullout plan

"We're happy to see that [Binyamin] Netanyahu has suffered a humiliating defeat."

Palestinian leaders on Tuesday reiterated their opposition to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally withdraw from some areas in the West Bank, warning that such a move would complicate the problem and increase tensions in the region. However, several officials in Ramallah expressed satisfaction with the results of Tuesday's election in Israel, especially the fact that the Likud Party had lost much of its power. "We're happy to see that [Binyamin] Netanyahu has suffered a humiliating defeat," a top official told The Jerusalem Post. "We hope that Kadima and Labor will join forces to advance the peace process and end the conflict." Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas criticized Olmert's plan as "very dangerous" and warned that it could lead to chaos in the region. "This unilateral plan will only escalate the conflict and will never bring peace," he said, expressing hope that the new Israeli government would work toward reviving the peace process. "There can be no future for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples without peace. I'm prepared to discuss with the new government ways of implementing the road map plan for peace," he added. In response to the results of the election, Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh also voiced opposition to Olmert's plan and warned that unilateral moves would only escalate tensions. Haniyeh, who was speaking hours after his cabinet won the confidence of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he was prepared to hold talks with the US administration about reaching a just peace in the Middle East. He also urged the international community to pressure Israel to halt its measures against the Palestinians and the construction of settlements and the security fence. PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians, including Hamas, respect the choice of the Israeli people. "We hope the new government would opt for peace," he said. Many Palestinians said they did not see any difference between the major parties in Israel. "There's no difference between Olmert and the other candidates," said political analyst Osama Hamdan. "Most Palestinians believe that all the candidates are bad for them." Incoming Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar said he saw no difference between the Israeli parties since "all have committed crimes against the Palestinian people." He added: "All the parties are responsible for our suffering and the crimes that have been committed against our people." Zahar, too, warned that unilateral steps in the West Bank would aggravate tensions. Fatah legislator Muhammed Dahlan expressed hope that the new Israeli government would end the occupation of Palestinian territories. "The important issue for us is to see a government that recognizes the Palestinian people's rights and works toward ending the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. The election was held as Arab leaders opened their annual summit in Sudan with generous praise for January's Palestinian elections and denunciations of Israel and the West for threatening to cut off aid in response to the landslide victory of Hamas. "We say no to robbing the Palestinian people of their democratic choice, no to punishing the Palestinian people for exercising their right to choose who rules, and no to succumbing to Israel's violations of all the promises it made," Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the summit's host, said emphatically, winning a round of applause from the audience of heads of state and delegates. "We call on the international community to respect this people and their choices which came through free and transparent elections praised by international observers," said Bashir. He also called on the international community to push Israel to respond to international resolutions and stop "state terrorism" against the Palestinians.