Nov. 16, 2004
Shalom: Israel willing to work with new Palestinian leadership

By URIEL HEILMAN
CLEVELAND, Ohio

With the resignation of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Palestinian leadership in turmoil following Yasser Arafat's death, Israeli officials are signaling a renewed willingness to work with the Palestinians on disengagement from Gaza.

Speaking this week at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Cleveland, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel would be willing to work in partnership with the Palestinians on the planned withdrawal if a new, more responsible Palestinian leadership emerges.

"If a new leadership on the Palestinian side acts to combat terror, then we will be able to consider coordinating aspects of the 'day after' with them," Shalom said at a speech Sunday night to the plenary at the G.A.

"There will be no shortcuts," Shalom acknowledged at a press conference the following morning. "We are trying now to find out who is going to be the next leadership."

"The question now is whether we can do it with the new Palestinian leadership."

Shalom also said Israel would not stand in the way of Palestinian elections as long as they do not pose a threat to Israel's security. "If it's not going to damage our security, we don't see any reason why we shouldn't give them free access to the [voting] booth," he said.

Israel will not permit Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to vote in the capital city, however. More likely, those Palestinians would participate in Palestinian elections via mail-in ballots, Shalom said.

Meanwhile, with the Bush administration signaling renewed interest in pushing the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table-and as the new Bush administration takes shape-Shalom shrugged off the notion that Israel would be pressured into peacemaking.

"We don't need any pressure from the Americans or anyone else. Israel desires to have peace," he said. "We would like to believe that we're going to have responsible Palestinian leadership" with whom Israel can work, he said.