Escaping Arafat's Shadow

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TIME: What do you think will be the consequences for Palestinians of events in Lebanon?

ABBAS: It's clear-cut. President Assad said he will withdraw. But for us, we don't know yet the consequences. We don't know the demands of the Americans.

TIME: In Washington, many think the growing democracy movement in the Middle East comes from President Bush's pressure.

ABBAS: I don't think that we made democracy because President Bush pushed us. We decided that we should have a democratic process, and we did it without any pressure.

TIME: Now that you've been elected, your progress depends on your cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Islamist groups opposing peace. How secure is it ?

ABBAS: I concluded a truce with Hamas when I was Prime Minister.

After I became head of the Palestinian Authority, I conducted talks with them, and they accepted without any pressure on them. It is a democracy. We have to deal with them accordingly. TIME: But when they launch suicide-bomb attacks like the latest one in Tel Aviv?

ABBAS: They said they are not responsible and they'll stick to the cease-fire. All of [the Islamist factions]. Even those that are in Damascus.

TIME: Who was responsible, then, for the Tel Aviv attack?

ABBAS: It was individuals. We arrested five. If you ask me who is responsible, the Israelis are responsible. The bombers came from the suburb of Tulkarem to Tel Aviv, crossing the wall. So who is responsible? The wall and the Israelis.

TIME: Hamas won seats in municipal elections in January. Now the P.L.O. has an opposition? ABBAS: This is proof that they are going to be a political party, which is good. TIME: Israelis and Americans are shocked to think Hamas could be in your parliament.

ABBAS: Why not? They should be in the parliament. They will share responsibility. Israel has more than 33 political parties from right to left and in between.

TIME: What's your plan to reach a peace agreement with Israel?

ABBAS: We suggested to the Israelis and Americans to work in back channels on final-status issues while we are working on earlier phases of the road map. If we start now, we have a lot of time to work with the Americans to find ideas, to find compromises. But if we go [without preparation] to the third [final status] phase of the road map, and then we get a make-or-break situation like Camp David [in 2000], it's unworkable.

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