Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was ready to ‘engage immediately in negotiations on the final status’ of the Palestinian territories with the Israeli occupying power.
He added that ‘armed chaos’ and ‘security anarchy’ will no longer be tolerated, as his chief of staff announced that the Palestinian leader will start soon to disarm local militias in the Gaza Strip.
‘In order for the disengagement to be a step of peace . . . work in the settlements and on the separation wall must end and prisoners must be released,’ Abbas told Israel.
Abbas said that, ‘the occupation will not end until the objectives of the peace process, namely the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in the territories which were occupied in 1967, have been met.’
He added: ‘The withdrawal of the occupation army and the settlers from the Gaza Strip doesn’t mean in any way that occupation has come to an end.’
In his first speech following the Israeli withdrawal, Abbas said neither Gaza nor the West Bank will be fully liberated until Israel gives up control of ‘crossings, borders, the air and sea.’
‘Today Gaza, tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem,’ he said.
Abbas thanked all the Palestinian anti-Israeli occupation factions, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for observing the truce with the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) and facilitating Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.
The Palestinian factions have been observing a unilateral truce since Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a summit meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on February 8.
However, the Palestinian leader warned: ‘We will no longer tolerate from this day the security anarchy, the armed chaos and the kidnappings.
‘The principle that unites us is that we have one authority, one law and one legal weapon,’ he added.
‘We will not allow anybody to destroy this achievement under any justification. This is the future of our sons. Today there is no room for personal agendas.’
Abbas’s chief of staff, Rafiq Husseini, said the PNA-elected president wants to end local lawlessness.
Husseini told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that Abbas planned to start by disarming the small armed groups within his own ruling Fatah movement before moving onto bigger, better armed and more disciplined organisations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
‘The president will start with his own house first to show other groups that he is serious,’ he said.
‘These groups will be asked to disband, join the security forces or will be dealt with as outlaws that have no right to exist and will be treated accordingly.
‘There is no Israeli presence in Gaza, so carrying arms in the streets and having militias isn’t justified,’ he added.
President Abbas has said that after January 25 parliamentary elections, which Hamas plans to contest for the first time, the group would no longer need weapons.
‘After elections Hamas can’t mix between being a political party and having armed militias. They have to choose. They are either a militia or a political party,’ Husseini said, echoing President Abbas.
Husseini however did not say exactly when any disarmament would start or whether force would be used to get groups to comply.
Abbas has so far ruled out the use of force and resorted instead to ‘dialogue’.
In his televised speech on Tuesday, Abbas outlined ambitious plans for new housing and public works in the Gaza Strip.
He said 3,000 housing units would be built in the former Israeli settlement of Morag in southern Gaza Strip at a cost of $100 million.
Also he said that 1,210 homes would be built in Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border, with Saudi funding, and houses wrecked by Israel during more than four years of the Palestinian second Intifada (uprising) would be renovated.
‘We will rebuild the houses which have been destroyed by the occupation forces, rehabilitate the streets and create job opportunities for thousands of workers,’ Abbas promised.
Separately, PNA Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei also announced immediate plans to rebuild Gaza.
Immediate measures were ordered to secure the industrial zone in the northern Gaza Strip, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the greenhouses left behind in the former Israeli settlements, Qurei announced in a press conference on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters after chairing a cabinet meeting in Gaza City, he said the Palestinian security forces were ordered to immediately secure those three areas.
He called on the Palestinians to preserve public property.
‘You won’t profit from a pillar, plastic tubing or pieces of wood that you are taking. Protect them because they are yours,’ he said.
Earlier, during a tour in Neve Dekalim, the site of what had been Israel’s largest settlement in Gaza, Qurei told Palestinians: ‘The nightmare is over, the occupation has gone and Gaza is now without settlers.’
Qurei said that Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will pave the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
‘This withdrawal should prepare for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state,’ Qurei told reporters as he was touring the evacuated settlements in Gaza, one day after Israel completed its final stage of its military withdrawal from the coastal strip.
However, Qurei said that the Israeli ‘disengagement’ does not mean the end of Israeli occupation, because Israel continues to control the border crossings and the airspace, as well as water resources.
‘The Israeli occupation hasn’t ended,’ he said. ‘What we saw is the departure of the settlers.
‘There are many issues that haven’t been resolved yet. The border, water and airspace should be under our control. The only borders we are prepared to accept are the 1967 borders.’
Qurei hailed Hamas and Islamic Jihad for their role in driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip.
‘The Israeli withdrawal and the dismantlement of the settlements is the result of our people’s sacrifices and heroic resistance,’ he said.
‘No one can underestimate the role played by martyrs Yasser Arafat, Ahmad Yassin, Abdul Aziz Rantisi and (slain Islamic Jihad leader) Fathi Shikaki, as well as all the martyrs.’
The PNA announced on Tuesday a list of new names for the former settlements in the Gaza Strip and instructed the Palestinian media to stop using the former names.