Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said Mideast peace talks should resume immediately after Israel completes its Gaza withdrawal and expressed hope that a Palestinian state will be established by next year.
“We live in hope,” Abbas told The Associated Press. “We hope that a Palestinian state can be achieved next year, God willing. What is important is to have the state.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Abbas also pledged to bring armed groups from the ruling Fatah movement under central control within three weeks.
‘I am very optimistic’
He said the U.S. has assured him that peace negotiations with Israel can resume as soon as Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza, expected by Sept. 15. Israel has already evacuated some 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four isolated West Bank enclaves.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said Washington sees the Israeli withdrawal “as an opportunity to re-energize the road map.”
Abbas said he has high hopes for the Palestinian economy after the Israeli pullout.
“I am very optimistic that the next step is to develop the economy in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said.
“Palestinian investors are coming here to build projects. If we succeed in this it means we are creating a very important reality, which is pulling the people out of poverty and into prosperity.”
‘We have our ways to talk to Hamas’
Abbas praised Ariel Sharon's decision to leave Gaza but at the same time criticized the Israeli leader for following up the Gaza evacuation with announcements of more building in the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement.
"If Mr. Sharon is facing internal problems, then I say he cannot solve one problem by creating another," Abbas said. "It was the correct decision to withdraw from Gaza and this is a good thing and he now must continue with the peace process."
Meanwhile, Abbas said he would continue with his policy of persuasion over coercion in dealing with Hamas - a position Israel has repeatedly denounced.
"We have our ways to talk to Hamas," he said. "We never had any intention to have a confrontation with Hamas or with others. We want to solve all our problems through negotiations."
He said the Palestinians are moving in the direction of having "One authority, one legitimate gun, one law," and pledged that out-of-control armed factions within his own Fatah movement would "be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority in the next two or three weeks."
Abbas unconcerned about prospect of Israeli-Pakistani ties
Abbas also said he was confident his forces will be able to maintain control when Palestinians take over the abandoned Jewish settlements later this month.
"The Palestinian Authority managed to prevent any confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis as the settlers were leaving and this is an indication that the police can do their job," he said.
Abbas said he was not concerned about recent indications of a possible rapprochement between Israel and the Muslim world following the Gaza pullout. He noted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured him in a telephone call that Pakistan would not establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state "until Israel withdraws completely and the Palestinian state is established."