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Abbas as pragmatist our Middle East hope

For the United States, the importance of Sunday's Palestinian election nearly rivals the upcoming Iraqi elections.

Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas is hardly cozy with Israel, but his campaign suggested a pragmatism that was missing in his predecessor.

Mr. Abbas seems to realize he cannot maintain power without continuing Mr. Arafat's anti-Zionist rhetoric. When an Israeli tank shell killed seven Palestinians on Tuesday, he decried the "Zionist enemy," and praised "the martyrs who were killed."

In the odd world of Middle Eastern politics, Israel should be thankful Mr. Abbas continues the language of hate. Any other language would alienate Hamas and other militants, leaving Israel with no Palestinian leader powerful enough to push for peace.

Neither Israel nor the United States needs Islamic love or even respect. What both countries do need is a rational enemy. An enemy that recognizes the futility of suicide bombings aimed at civilians; that sees a paradox in killing other Muslims in the name of Allah; that is able to lay down arms when the battle is lost.

Mr. Abbas appears to be such a pragmatist. As do his constituents, Mr. Abbas believes Israel, with international assistance, stole Palestinian land and violated Palestinian trust. But he also sees terrorism and a continuation of the four-year-old intifada as counterproductive.

"The only way is the choice of peace. It is impossible to liberate Palestine with the use of weapons because the balance of power is not with us," Mr. Abbas said on the campaign trail.

The cost to the United States of nearly six decades of hostility between Israel and Palestine has been immense by any measure. That cost likely includes the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It includes the lives of hundreds of American troops and civilians killed in terrorist attacks over the years in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and other Middle Eastern states. And, of course, it includes the blood and money that saturate the desert of Iraq.

Are these American deaths Israel's fault? No. But America's partnership with Israel is the main combustible that fuels Islamic blood lust. The target can never be removed from the back of Americans in the Middle East unless Israel and Palestine find peace.

We must hope, therefore, that Mr. Abbas can maintain leadership over his constituents without losing his pragmatic perspective of the Israeli conflict. And that Israel shows more willingness to compromise.

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