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Palestinian, Israeli Prime Ministers Face Political Challenges in New Road Map

Aired June 3, 2003 - 20:18   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: True peace, a hard thing to find these days. President Bush met face-to-face for the first time today with a man who could be a key to the Middle East peace process. The president's encounter with newly-named Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas came at a meeting with Arab leaders in Egypt.
Tomorrow the president meets in Jordan with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Now both Abbas and Sharon have to deal with internal politics. We have reports now from Kelly Wallace in Gaza and John Vause in Jerusalem. Let's start with Kelly Wallace.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Gaza, only a few hundred members of radical Palestinian groups protest the Arab leaders' summit in Egypt. A small rally compared to the thousands who normally march with groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A sign of maybe a new mood in Gaza, and a good omen for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who faces what may be a make or break challenge, trying to convince radical Palestinian groups to stop their attacks against Israel. It is a tough sell.

"If the occupation is still there we will attack the settlers and soldiers," Abdellah al-Shami (ph), an Islamic Jihad leader told us. "And if the Israelis continue to attack us, the only way to make a balance of pain is to attack them inside Israel."

Mr. Abbas' power of persuasion will no doubt depend on his power to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to take steps such as easing Palestinian travel restrictions, continuing to release prisoners, stopping what Palestinians call assassinations of militants and ending all military operations in places like the Gaza Strip.

ABDEL AZIZ RANTISI, HAMAS LEADER: They are going to stop targeting our civilians, then we are ready to stop targeting what they call their civilians.

WALLACE: But the Palestinian prime minister faces another problem, under international pressure to completely dismantle groups like Hamas, he is trying to convince the groups to lay down their arms and become political parties under the Palestinian Authority. But they won't do that, because unlike Mr. Abbas, they reject the Middle East road map as a solution to the decades-old conflict. ABU SHANAB, HAMAS LEADER: If he thinks that the Israelis, by accepting the road map, will obey the road map and the gradual withdrawal, he is totally mistaken.

WALLACE (on camera): Mahmoud Abbas' success or failure will not only determine the future of the road map, but also his stature and legitimacy on the Palestinian streets.

(voice-over): Although he has only a 3 percent popularity rating, many Palestinians seem willing to give the prime minister a chance like this woman who says she has not been able to leave the area to see her daughter in Jerusalem in 2 1/2 years.

(on camera): Do you think he can make life better for the Palestinian people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hope so. We hope so.

WALLACE (voice-over): But if he fails to deliver a cease-fire and Israeli concessions, Mahmoud Abbas may not only dash the hopes of some Palestinians, but his own hope for leading his people into the future.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, Gaza.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Sharon Country, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Market in Jerusalem. Here the heroes are men like Menachem Begin, the underground fighter turned prime minister who made peace with Egypt, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the former leader who still opposes a Palestinian state and wants to send the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat into exile.

Fred Hueman retired here 10 years ago from New York, an unabashed Sharon supporter.

FRED HUEMAN, SHARON SUPPORTER: He's been carrying on the affairs of this country under very trying circumstances. I don't think anybody else could have done better.

VAUSE (on camera): Do you think he's doing the right thing in supporting the road map?

HUEMAN: The road map will go down the road like all the other road maps.

VAUSE: Efraim Ludzkr, a 29-year-old religion student, like most Israelis doubtful the road map will lead to peace, but willing to go along for the ride as long as Ariel Sharon is driving.

EFRAIM LUDZKR, SHARON SUPPORTER: There's no choice. If he doesn't do anything (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be a useless prime minister. VAUSE: Israelis already see General Sharon as a war hero, defending Israel from an Arab invasion in 1973. But to him personally analysts say there's now much more at stake.

GERALD STEINBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: If this peace process lasts, Sharon certainly goes down in history like Begin in terms of his accomplishments on the peace fronts. Agreement with the Palestinians in some ways would be even more fundamental.

VAUSE: Politically the road map looks safe, the opposition Labor Party supports it, and within his own Likud Party, Ariel Sharon's leadership is unchallenged for the time being.

STEINBERG: If things go very, very badly as they did for Ehud Barak, both in terms of a failed political process and also great increase in violence, then certainly someone else will come up and challenge him.

VAUSE: There will be demonstrations in the coming days against this road map for peace, but they're not expected to be a repeat of the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in protest in the years after the Oslo Peace Accord.

(on camera): When it comes to his traditional supporters, it seems Ariel Sharon has little to worry about, at least for now. They may not understand what their prime minister is doing, but they're willing to trust him. It's the road map they don't trust.

John Vause, CNN, Jerusalem.



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