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Abbas Appeals to Hamas as Parliament Opens

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

NPR's Eric Westervelt was there. Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And I gather the response from the Hamas members of Parliament wasn't notably enthusiastic to what Mahmoud Abbas said.

WESTERVELT: Hamas rejects the Oslo Peace Accords and the U.S.-backed Roadmap Peace Plan, which Abbas called on the incoming Hamas government to abide by. Legislators we spoke to said Hamas will only consider a long-term truce with Israel, Scott, only after Israel completely pulls back to its pre-1967 war borders; and that's something the Israeli government has repeatedly said is unacceptable. So it's something of a collision path, perhaps, between Mahmoud Abbas, who remains as President, and the incoming Hamas government.

SIMON: Did Mr. Abbas say anything that seemed to be reaching out to the Hamas members of Parliament at the same time to try and keep his own political fortunes up?

WESTERVELT: So his speech had many different audiences, certainly the Israeli public, the Palestinian public, and the incoming Hamas government.

SIMON: Mr. Abbas is speaking at a time when every legislator there must be confronting the prospect that aid is going to be cut off, aid that comes from the United States, Western Europe, other United Nation member states, and for that matter tax revenues from Israel. Did he say anything that was responsive to that?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. They're very concerned, both Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, about tax revenue being reduced. This is money Israel takes and transfers to the Palestinian authorities that they use to pay the salaries of the Palestinian authority workers. And Abbas warned against Israel cutting off that transfer of what is Palestinian funds, saying that this is collective punishment if it happens for the Palestinian people who have made a democratically elected, democratic choice. And Hamas members in the audience echoed that concern, saying there shouldn't be collective punishment, and Mahmoud Abbas called any cut-off of that aid quote "blackmail."

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt at the opening of the Palestinian Parliament in Ramallah today. Thanks a lot.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
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