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Opinion: A Vote for Peaceful Struggle

Mahmoud Abbas has been declared the winner of the Palestinian presidential election, with over 62 percent of the votes. But he will need a lot of support now if there is to be a fresh start in relations with Israel.

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Mahmoud Abbas will need support from Israel if there is to be peace

Mahmoud Abbas has been elected. The news hardly comes as a surprise, since for weeks leading up to the election, observers predicted the PLO leader would get a two-thirds majority. And even though Yasser Arafat got 88.8 percent of the vote in 1996, Abbas can be satisfied with his result. The election went smoothly, and the Palestinians caught a whiff of fresh air -- the air of democracy, and a new beginning.

Despite this, everyone -- Abbas especially -- is aware that the real struggle has only just begun. The fight for votes will now be turned into the fight to realize the Palestinian dream -- a dream that has, over the last 80 years, caused enormous suffering. The dream was perhaps furthest away at those very moments when it appeared to be so tangible -- when over and over, the Palestinians resorted to violence in the belief that it could solve what was impossible to solve, and still can not be solved.

For this reason, Abbas is calling for a peaceful struggle. He has repeatedly criticized the Intifada of the past four years, because it has only hurt the Palestinians. Instead, he will rely on negotiations and diplomacy.

It is in this respect that Abbas most sets himself apart from Arafat, although he certainly wouldn't distance himself from his predecessor, so strong is Arafat's position as the icon of the Palestinian movement.

Action from Israel

Israel, however, should not deceive itself. The difference lies in style, not in the goal. Abbas also wants a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He wants Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories, to give up its settlements, and he wants a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees, to name just a few issues on which he won the election.

Mahmoud Abbas will need a massive amount of support if he is to reach these goals. And it would be disastrous, were Israel to now solely concentrate on demanding an end to the violence from him. Abbas has spoken out against violence, he wants to reform and democratize Palestinian society -- his two-thirds majority shows that the Palestinians support this. They also think it's right for Abbas, as he promised, to begin negotiations with Israel.

For Israel, this means a quick completion of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip -- as a precursor for further withdrawals. Additionally, Israel should dismantle the restrictions it has placed on the Palestinians' freedom of movement, for example, the monstrous separation barrier of walls and fences.

Nobody is telling Israel to give up its right to security, but true security can only come from a free and democratic Palestine. The first step has been taken with the elections; now, further steps must rapidly follow.

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