Abbas sending delegation to U.N. in hopes of reviving "road map" Mideast peace plan

Wednesday, September 13th 2006, 1:06 pm
By: News On 6

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to send a delegation to the U.N. next week to try to revive the ``road map'' peace plan, hoping to win legitimacy for the unity government his moderate Fatah faction and the militant Islamic Hamas are forming.

The internationally backed road map, which calls for a series of confidence-building steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, was launched by President Bush with great fanfare at a summit in Jordan in June 2003. But neither the Palestinians nor Israel met their initial obligations, and the plan never got off the ground.

``We want to revive the road map at the United Nations,'' Abbas said Wednesday during a televised news conference with Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Ramallah. He said he would send a delegation to the U.N. General Assembly session.

Israel echoed those remarks.

``We're all for the restarting of the road map,'' Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, adding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke about revitalizing the peace plan over the weekend with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Abbas' statement was a clear sign the Palestinians were trying to capitalize on their agreement Monday to form a national unity government to revive peace talks and end their international isolation. Western governments froze aid and halted contacts with the Palestinian Authority when Hamas refused to moderate its militant positions after winning January parliamentary elections and forming a government.

Abbas said the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, would likely remain in his post.

``As for who will be prime minister, of course the majority in parliament will be making the decision, and, without a doubt, the majority in parliament want Haniyeh,'' Abbas said. ``But until now we can't say when he will form a new government. And as I said in the beginning of the week, the government will be formed soon, God willing.''

Hamas and Fatah hope their unity government will gain international legitimacy and a resumption of foreign aid.

Speaking at a party meeting Wednesday, Olmert included the Palestinians among the ``problems that threaten Israel's existence,'' but said the country would pursue the possibility of talks that ``will pave the way to serious dialogue that might lead us many steps forward.''

Israel, the United States and European Union label Hamas a terror group and insist it must renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept previous peace accords. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. would not resume aid until the Palestinian government accepts all the conditions.

Hamas officials said Tuesday they would not object to Abbas' restarting peace talks with Israel. Hamas rejects the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East, but Fatah favors peace negotiations.

The aid cutoff, and Israel's refusal to transfer taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, has led to a severe financial crisis in Palestinian towns and left the government unable to pay full salaries to its 165,000 workers for the past six months.

Planning Minister Samir Abu Eisha, who was also acting as finance minister, said Wednesday that if Israel restored the tax transfers, it would more than make up the nearly $300 million in back pay the Palestinian Authority owes to its employees.

``This is our right. We should have this money,'' he said.

Abu Eisha said the Palestinian Authority also expects to be able to pay the workers a month's salary before the holy month of Ramadan, which starts in about 10 days. He did not say where that money would come from, but said the government was reaching out to Arab countries.

Talking to reporters Wednesday evening in Gaza City, Haniyeh said, ``God willing, we'll be able to pay one salary before Ramadan.''

Also Wednesday, a military judge held a hearing for three Hamas officials arrested following the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked militants. The court decided last week to release the men on bail, but prosecutors appealed.

During a hearing Wednesday, prosecutors said the men were flight risks. The judge gave the prosecution until Thursday to present written arguments, and in the meantime, the three are to remain in custody. Also Thursday, a military judge is to hear a prosecutor's appeal against the release of 18 other Hamas officials _ including lawmakers and Cabinet ministers _ arrested in the sweep.