Israeli Foreign Minister Criticizes Abbas

Israel (search) is "discouraged" by interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' (search) refusal to distance himself from the legacy of Yasser Arafat (search), Israel's Foreign Minister said in remarks published Tuesday, the strongest Israeli criticism of Palestinian policies since Arafat's death.

The remarks by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search) contrasted starkly with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) declaration last week that "2005 is the year of the great opportunity" in Israel's relations with the Palestinians and could bring "a breakthrough for which we have waited for many years."

Sharon's comments were seen as the latest reflection of increasing optimism over the long stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process following Arafat's death Nov. 11.

But in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, Shalom said Israel was concerned by the support Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — had expressed for Arafat positions.

"We are discouraged," Shalom was quoted as saying. "Abu Mazen's first declaration ... was that he will preserve Arafat's legacy. For us that legacy is terrorism."

In other comments Shalom described as "unacceptable" Abbas' support for the right of return of hundreds of thousands of descendants of Palestinians who left their homes when Israel was established in 1948 and criticized his refusal to use force to disarm Palestinian militants.

"Unfortunately Abu Mazen made a statement a few days ago that he will not do it by force," Shalom was quoted as saying. "(This) is a ticking bomb."

Last week senior Sharon aide Dov Weisglass described Abbas and other Palestinian leaders as "normal people" that Israel can do business with. Abbas is viewed as the strong favorite in Palestinian presidential elections on Jan 9.