GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP -Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said Mideast peace talks should resume immediately after Israel completes its Gaza withdrawal and expressed hope that a Palestinian state will be established by next year.
"We live off hope," Abbas told The Associated Press. "And we hope that a Palestinian state can be achieved next year, God willing. What is important is to have the state."
In a wide-ranging interview, Abbas also pledged to bring diverse militias from the ruling Fatah movement under central control within three weeks.
He said the U.S. has assured him that peace negotiations with Israel can resume as soon as Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza, expected by Sept. 15. Israel has already evacuated some 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and four isolated West Bank enclaves.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said Washington sees the Israeli withdrawal "as an opportunity to re-energize the road map," referring to an internationally-backed peace plan that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. He said he had no information about a specific timetable.
Abbas said he has high hopes for the Palestinian economy after the Israeli pullout, which will be finished as soon as Israel completes the withdrawal of troops.
"Palestinian investors are coming here to build projects," he said. "If we are successful in this endeavor then we will have accomplished something incredible, which is to pull the Palestinian people out of poverty and into prosperity."
Abbas praised Ariel Sharon”s decision to leave Gaza but criticized the Israeli leader for following up the Gaza evacuation with announcements of more building in the West Bank”s largest Jewish settlement.
"If Mr. Sharon is facing internal problems, then I say he cannot solve one problem by creating another," Abbas said. "It was the correct decision to withdraw from Gaza, and this is a good thing, and he now must continue with the peace process."
Israel has conditioned a return to negotiations on Palestinian willingness to rein in militants, especially the Islamic Hamas group.
In a direct challenge to Abbas, Hamas” secretive military wing emerged from hiding Saturday, laying bare its command structure on its Web site, naming commanders and detailing how the group attacked Israelis. The Web posting was part of a competition with Abbas” Palestinian Authority over who will get credit for Israel”s Gaza pullout. In it, Hamas warned that it would use force if Palestinian police tried to disarm or arrest its members.
In the interview, Abbas said he would continue with his policy of persuasion over coercion in dealing with Hamas — a position Israel has repeatedly denounced. He also maintained that the Palestinians are moving in the direction of having "one authority, one legitimate gun, one law."
During the past five years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, the Palestinian territories have increasingly been at the mercy of competing armed groups. The security forces, themselves widely criticized for corruption, have been unable to control the chaos.
He said he was confident his forces will be able to maintain control when Palestinians take over the abandoned Jewish settlements later this month.
"The Palestinian Authority managed to prevent any confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis as the settlers were leaving and this is an indication that the police can do their job," said Abbas, who assumed leadership of the Palestinian Authority after the death of Yasser Arafat last November.
Abbas said he was not concerned about recent indications of a possible rapprochement between Israel and the Muslim world following the Gaza pullout. The Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers met in Turkey on Thursday — the first high-level meeting between the two countries.
Abbas said Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf assured him that Pakistan would not establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state "until Israel withdraws completely and the Palestinian state is established."
On Saturday, Musharraf told a high-level meeting that Pakistan”s official recognition of Israel will occur only after a Palestinian state is created, according to a statement from Pakistan”s Foreign Ministry.
Abbas concluded the interview by expressing sadness over Hurricane Katrina”s devastation.
"I have been watching the catastrophe that has unfolded in the U.S. that has no precedent. I sent a message of condolence to President Bush and send my condolences to the American people."