Although Fatah suffered a crushing defeat to Hamas in January's legislative elections, Abbas remains the leader of all the disputed Israeli territories handed over to PA control, including Gaza and several enclaves within Judea and Samaria.
The Italian newspaper Carriera Della Sera printed the interview with the PA leader, who said that he hopes that Ehud Olmert will form the next coalition government in Israel's Knesset.
Abbas said his preference for Olmert stemmed from their personal acquaintance. He added, though, that he would "honor every decision made by the Israeli public” pertaining to the elections.
PA sources later said that what Abbas meant was that in light of the polls in Israel foreseeing a Kadima victory, "he would deal with Olmert, as he knows him well."
However, Kadima's rivals took advantage of Abu Mazen's endorsement. The National Union-National Religious Party list stated, "It's no wonder that Abu Mazen supports Olmert. Who doesn't like free gifts? He just can't wait for Olmert to grant him the Hamas state. This is the prize Abu Mazen gives Kadima for its promise to carry out free withdrawals."
Likud spokesman Ronen Moshe said, "Even Abu Mazen understands that Kadima is more left-wing than Labor. Even Abu Mazen, who entrusted the formation of a PA government in the hands of Hamas and enables the release of the murderers of Minister Ze'evi, understands that Ehud Olmert will make great concessions for nothing in return or Palestinian obligations."
Recent reports have alleged that the US demanded of Abbas to delay the formation of a Hamas-led PA government so as not to negatively impact the electoral support of Ariel Sharon's Kadima party, led by Olmert since Sharon's massive stroke.
The Likud party issued a statement in response to the report: "Abu Mazen understands that with Olmert he will receive radical withdrawals without anything in return and with no Palestinian commitments…Even Abu Mazen understands that Kadima is left of Labor."
"Abu Mazen's declaration is a Certificate of Inadequacy for Kadima and Olmert," said Likud faction head Gideon Sa'ar. "Abu Mazen is concerned with Palestinian interests, which desire the rise of the left, led by Olmert, which plans gratuitous withdrawals from Judea and Samaria."
Labor expressed anger at Abu Mazen. Labor sources were quoted as saying that it was "unacceptable" to make this statement after Labor chief Amir Peretz had taken the trouble to meet with him. Labor leaders later issued a correction, saying they were not angry at Abu Mazen.