Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bush, Olmert insist that Palestinian unity government meets international conditions

From Reuters, Sat Feb 17, 2007 4:04PM EST By Sue Pleming [emphasis added]...

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have agreed to shun a Palestinian unity government unless it meets international conditions, an official in Olmert's office said on Saturday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the power-sharing agreement between Fatah and Hamas was "the best we could get".

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Jerusalem after a surprise trip to Baghdad.... is due to meet Olmert and Abbas on Monday in Jerusalem to try to revive stalled peace talks.

But the Israelis said the meeting would focus instead on disagreements over Abbas's deal for a coalition of his Fatah movement with the militant Hamas group. An official in Olmert's office told Reuters the agreement with Bush over a joint position toward the Palestinian government was reached in a telephone conversation on Friday between the two leaders. "We won't recognize a unity government that doesn't explicitly accept the conditions. This is the joint U.S.-Israeli position," the official said, confirming Israeli television reports.

In the unity deal reached in [Mecca] Saudi Arabia this month, Hamas made no explicit commitment to recognize Israel, renounce violence or accept interim peace deals as demanded by Israel and the Quartet of Middle East mediators. Abbas made clear he would not budge from the deal.

"This agreement was the best we could get. We cannot change it. You either take it or leave it," a Palestinian official said of Abbas's message to Assistant U.S. Secretary of State David Welch in preparatory talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah......

Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the Palestinians hoped to convince the United States "that this is the only possible agreement, that the government must be given a chance".
Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Palestinians hoped the three-way summit would "launch a quiet channel, as President Abbas has requested, to explore how to get to our objective of a Palestinian state".

A letter from Abbas reappointing Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas as prime minister contains a vague call to Hamas to "abide" by Palestinian and Arab resolutions that include recognition of Israel, and to "respect" past agreements and international law. Haniyeh said on Friday he hoped to form the government with Abbas's Fatah faction within three weeks.

Haniyeh launched coalition talks on Saturday with members of two militant factions, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The United States has struggled to maintain a united front within the Quartet, which also includes the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. Even if some Arab and European countries resume aid after a year-long embargo of the Hamas government, Western diplomats said the impact would be limited. Without U.S. support, regional and international banks will be reluctant to resume transfers to the Palestinian government, Palestinian bank executives said.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Wafa Amr in Ramallah)

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