Friday, February 23, 2007

Quartet Goes Gaga Over Gaza

From American Thinker, February 22, 2007, bBy David Singer ...

Gaza has all the trappings of a State except declared Statehood.

The 22 members of the Arab League and the Quartet - America, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - have allowed this farce to continue for the last 18 months.

Gaza, larger in area than Malta, has a President, a Parliament, a Prime Minister, multiple police and security forces, a burgeoning bureaucracy, observers to every United Nations Committee you can think of, delegations to countries all around the world, a flag and an anthem and most important of all - not one Jew.

The 7000 Jews living in Gaza were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses 18 months ago. That they were so evicted by other Jews, supposedly for their own safety, is shameful. However given half a chance the Gazan Arabs would have done the job willingly They even boasted that it was their campaign of terror and violence that finally forced the Jews to leave.

Ethnic cleansing is apparently acceptable in international humanitarian law where Jews are the victims.

The violence against Jews has been replaced by the killing and intimidation of Gaza's now exclusively Arab citizenry, as Hamas and Fatah each battle to assert their authority over the other in an internecine struggle that shows no signs of abating.

The people without a land who had been yearning for a land for the last 40 years was suddenly in full possession and control of part of that land but just couldn't bring itself to utter the magic words of independence. Figuratively speaking the jilted bride was left waiting at the mosque.
The occupation had ended, the occupiers had gone but the population acted as though nothing had changed.

There was no rejoicing and dancing in the streets, no hugs embraces and tears among the populace who now found themselves in full control of their destiny and self-determination.
There have been no exciting nation building programs implemented to give new direction and vision to Gaza's population.

Destruction, not creation, has become the buzzword in Gaza. Sadly statehood is the last thing that Gaza wanted because it would put an end to the claim of statelessness, terminate the claim to refugee status by a large proportion of its population and signal the end of the perpetual financial support received from UNWRA since 1948.

Furthermore statehood might be taken to be an abandonment of further claims to any land that was formerly comprised in the Mandate of Palestine. The reticence of the Arab League in these circumstances was misplaced. True, Statehood for Gaza would pull the rug from under the feet of this cartel and put pressure on it to end its refusal to recognize or negotiate with the State of Israel. But the League's policy of inaction and its' failure to call for statehood has seen Gaza's population become a killing field of ever growing proportions.

The Quartet however need not have been so coy. It had a different agenda aimed at solving "the Palestinian question" which it considered to be the most intractable problem in the Middle East. The unexpected removal of all Jews from Gaza presented the Quartet with the opening it had been desperately seeking to take a giant step forward in solving this problem. Yet the Quartet faltered dismally in failing to demand that the Parliament in Gaza declare statehood within the boundaries that separate it from Israel and Egypt.

This single act could have been the circuit breaker towards ending 130 years of conflict resulting from competing claims by Jews and Arabs over the same land. Instead the Quartet focused its efforts on attempting to achieve an overall rather than a partial solution to Arab claims in the West Bank and Gaza in fulfilment of its' misconceived Road Map aimed at misguidedly creating a third State in Mandatory Palestine between Israel and Jordan.

The Quartet has now paid the price for its' folly. It has created a void into which Hamas has stepped making it impossible now to achieve statehood in Gaza until Hamas is removed from power.

The frantic shuttle diplomacy and endless meetings continue to be held . They achieve no positive outcome other than the accumulation of frequent flyer points for their participants.
Meanwhile the killing and mayhem in Gaza continue to head the news bulletins.

It is now time to call on Jordan and Egypt to play a constructive role in cleaning up the mess in Gaza, which is quickly sinking into the arms smuggling tunnels it has been so busily excavating under its very foundations. The time for playing semantic word games, holding joint press conferences and grabbing photo opportunities is surely over.

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organization calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine.

Where do Arab "moderates" stand?

From the Washington Institue for Near east Policy, PolicyWatch #1201, By David Makovsky, February 16, 2007 ...

On February 14, 2007, Institute senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process David Makovsky testified before the US House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The following is a synopsis of his testimony.

Read the complete text of David Makovsky's testimony in PDF format.

The Israeli-Palestinian political landscape has been rather bleak over the last several years. Between 2000-2004, the second intifada brought almost unremitting terror and violence. Despite Israel's pullout from Gaza in the summer of 2005, the parliamentary victory of the rejectionist Hamas party in January 2006 contributed to this downward trend.

... This trend was demonstrated last week at the Mecca summit. The agreement signed there will greatly complicate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's effort to reach a "political horizon" between Israelis and Palestinians... Rice sees her "political horizon" discussions as both validating Abbas's focus on negotiations instead of violence and as satisfying Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni's belief that such a wide ranging discussion avoids ensuring that Israeli concessions are made in a contextual vacuum. Livni, and apparently Rice, believe that only under the rubric of discussing principles about a final status agreement can significant tradeoffs be reached and a grand bargain be struck -- and then the Roadmap implementation will flow more easily. In other words, defining the end does not mean immediate implementation of the endgame. Prior confidence-building thresholds should be crossed, including security.

Roadblock at Mecca
It is critical to understand how the recent Mecca summit has undercut this endeavor. While there are favorable aspects of the Palestinian unity accord, especially the prospect of halting internecine Palestinian violence, the negative side weighs heavily. The Mecca accord is a victory for Hamas, which has achieved its goal of forming a unity government without agreeing to the conditions imposed by the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia, and the UN) -- namely, no recognition of Israel, no disavowal of violence, and no commitment to agree to past written agreements.

At Mecca, Hamas resisted Abbas's insistence that Hamas commit to these principles. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Abbas has legitimized an unrepentant Hamas.

.... Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh will be the prime minister. PA officials are publicly saying the Hamas Executive Force militia will continue and be financed by the PA. Hamas has the right to put forward an "independent" name as interior minister, who could head the security services. All this has implications for U.S. policy. People who felt there was a logic to bolstering Abbas against Hamas's growing strength, and therefore supported the security mission of Gen. Keith Dayton and $86 million in nonlethal military assistance, must now wonder if the new Palestinian coalition alignment could lead to a very different outcome. The military assistance should be held until a review has taken place and clarifications about the new set-up are critical.

Irrespective of the Dayton and $86 million questions, the Quartet should keep to its three criteria. Such a commitment by the Quartet has not meant a cutoff of funds to individuals and humanitarian needs. According to the UN special coordinator's office for the Middle East peace process earlier this week, overall foreign aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza reached $1.3 billion in 2006. It is estimated that this is 10 percent above the previous year.....

Testing the 'Political Horizon'
Is the "political horizon" doomed? Perhaps the best way to see if Abbas will pick peaceful compromise with Israel over Palestinian unity on the core issues needed to resolve the conflict is to let Rice pursue her course. The litmus test will be the refugee question. The territorial demands made upon a weakened Olmert will be overwhelming, but without Abbas's willingness to compromise as well, there is no chance that an overall deal can be reached.

It is hard to see how Rice's mission to create a "political horizon" can succeed without the active involvement of the Saudis and Egyptians backing compromises, including the key issue of refugees. Without their participation, Abbas likely will not feel he has the Arab backing to proceed. Therefore, in the wake of the Mecca accord, as the Saudis move from backstage to center stage when it comes to Middle East diplomacy, urgent, high-level U.S.-Saudi consultations are needed about whether or not the two countries share a common outlook toward peacemaking.

A benign interpretation of Riyadh's intentions is that the Saudis realize the risk of radicalism and are ready to take the plunge into Arab-Israeli peacemaking. According to this view, there is a changing regional context and this could create opportunities for the United States. There is little doubt that Saudi Arabia -- along with Egypt and Jordan, from which I recently returned from a visit -- fear that an ascendant Iran upending existing order and pursuing nuclear weapons could change the balance of power in the Middle East. The wakeup call was last summer's war between Israel and Hizballah.

There is a less benign interpretation. It holds that what is driving Saudi Arabia is sectarianism, not pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. Under this view, Riyadh has no problem supporting Hamas's program, so long as it is a Sunni organization and can keep Iranian money and influence at bay.

Therefore, it would be useful for the United States to explore Saudi objectives and strategies. Moreover, for a political horizon to succeed, one needs to consider whether Riyadh and Cairo are willing to do something that they were not willing to do in 2000 at the time of Camp David (July) and the Clinton parameters (December). Namely, they need to provide the requisite political cover for Abbas to compromise. If they do not, they need to know that unlike 2000 they will be politically exposed for failing to do their share. In short, if the Bush administration is really serious about a political horizon, it needs to have a dialogue not just with Israelis and Palestinians but also with America's Arab friends to discern the depth of their commitment to peacemaking in a very specific way.

The Mecca experience suggests that not everyone is on the same page. It is not a good omen, as peacemaking requires broad support. Without such assistance, there is a prospect that the well-intended Rice mission could constitute motion without movement.

David Makovsky is a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at The Washington Institute.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hamas's Victory: From Gaza to Mecca

From Washington Institue for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch #1200, by Mohammad Yaghi, February 16, 2007 ....

As recently as December, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas refused to back a proposal for a unity government offered by Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member and head of the Independent Palestine list Mustafa Barghouti. That deal was based on the concept of a technocratic compromise under which Hamas officials would not have held the prime ministership or led any ministries. Yet under the terms of the February 8 Mecca accord, the current prime minister, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, will stay on as head of the next government, and the only portfolios Hamas members specifically will not hold are the finance, foreign affairs, and interior ministries, which will be headed by independents acceptable to both sides. The key question then is why Fatah settled for a unity agreement in February that provided it far less gains than previous unity proposals rejected by Abbas.

Fatah's Scare
While the Mecca accord may be interpreted as a mutual effort between Hamas and Fatah to stop intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza, a closer examination of the most recent clashes suggests that Hamas came away the winner and Fatah had to sue for peace.

Fighting between Fatah and Hamas reached an unprecedented level of intensity after a roadside bomb killed two members of Hamas's Executive Force in Jabalya on January 25. Since that incident, most of the clashes pitted Hamas's Executive Force, and Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades against Fatah's Preventive Security Organization, Presidential Guards, General Intelligence Service forces, and elements of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades associated with Fatah leader and legislative council member Momammed Dahlan. For the most part, the national security forces -- the police -- avoided the confrontations and attempted to remain neutral, fearing revenge killings to their families or because Hamas had already penetrated their ranks.

Fatah's forces suffered from internal divisions and rivalries among their leaderships. ....Unable to unite its forces under a coherent leadership, Fatah suffered greatly during the fighting after January 25. ....

For the members of Fatah engaged in the fighting, the intervention of Saudi King Abdullah came at an opportune moment that surely prevented additional losses on the ground. ....It is unlikely that this group would have accepted a unity agreement with Hamas were it not for the substantial losses suffered by Fatah in the fighting since January 25.

Comprehensive Gains for Hamas
Fatah's defeats on the ground enabled Hamas to score most of the gains from the Mecca accord. ... Hamas had to modify none of its political program to reach the unity agreement -- as indicated by subsequent statements from its spokesmen that Hamas will never recognize Israel.
Beyond retaining its political program unchanged, Hamas advanced many components of its long-term strategy of wresting control of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Fatah....

[go to the full article to read a detailed analysis of these gains]

....As it stands, the agreement spells significant gains for Hamas politically, institutionally, bureaucratically, and in its relations with the Arab world. It is likely that Abbas and Hamas together will still attempt to use the Mecca accord as a means of alleviating the Quartet's sanctions by claiming the government has accepted its conditions ....

The Mecca accord will not end the struggle between Fatah and Hamas to dominate the Palestinian political system, but it does represent an effort to gain a respite from the violence by dividing the PA according to each faction's current position on the ground.

Mohammad Yaghi is a Lafer international fellow with The Washington Institute and a columnist for the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

The war against the west

From Melanie Phillips, February 15, 2007 ...

...the capacity of the intellectual classes to deny the need for action against tyranny never ceases to amaze. If you want to tap into British denial of the need to confront the threat from Iran, listen to last night’s Moral Maze on BBC Radio Four. Particularly astounding was the suggestion that we should stop ‘demonising’ Iran — and of course, there were the inevitable claims that America is fabricating evidence that Iran is involved in Iraq in order to whip up a false case for invading Iran just as it ‘fabricated evidence’ for invading Iraq. Leave aside the case for war with Iraq for a second — the idea that America, which is in such difficulties in Iraq, would actually choose to embark on an all-out war with Iran at this juncture, with all the appalling risks involved, not least to the world economy, simply in order to ‘cover up’ its difficulties in Iraq, is bizarre in the extreme.

...Meanwhile, Iran speeds towards genocide, with people still scoffing that it’s ‘only rhetoric’. I recommend people to read this case for the indictment of Ahmadinejad on the charge of incitement to genocide — including the excellent footnotes and their references — to judge whether it we should regard it as ‘only rhetoric’ or whether it is imperative that we act now to prevent a second holocaust or the world being held to ransom by a nuclear-armed apocalyptic messianist with genocidal intentions.

We have been under attack by Iran since 1979, when Khomeini came to power and declared war upon the west and his intention to wipe out Israel and Islamise the world. Throughout three subsequent decades of Iranian attacks on western interests, we did virtually nothing. Now, with the clock at five minutes to nuclear midnight, we are still in disarray. Washington is mired in vicious internal in-fighting. Our elites continue to demonise America and Israel, thus paralysing our politicians and paving the way for a second holocaust. Meanwhile, we plunge ever deeper into total irrationality, with demented conspiracy theories about 9/11 being given a respectful hearing — as here on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show and here.

When are we going to pull ourselves together?

Israel warns Abbas that a Hamas tie would end talks

From the Boston Globe, by Anne Gearan, Associated Press February 21, 2007 ...

Cartoon from Cox & Forkum (first posted January 6, 2006)

AMMAN -- Israel warned yesterday it would stop dealing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if he goes ahead with plans to join Hamas in a new government, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Arab allies sought a way to break the Hamas logjam and push forward the stalled peace process. Israel, Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Olmert, ruled out any talks on a final peace deal with Abbas if he went ahead with plans to form a new Cabinet including Hamas. Israeli talks with Abbas would be limited to matters such as improving living conditions for the Palestinians and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel. "We're not talking about negotiations on final status issues," Eisin said.

The planned Palestinian coalition government fell far short of what the United States and Israel wanted, and also disappointed Sunni Arab states -- many of them US allies -- that had hoped Hamas would soften anti-Israeli policies enough to satisfy the West and restart the flow of vital international aid.

Army kills top Jihad operative in Jenin

From JPost, Feb. 21, 2007, by AP AND JPOST.COM STAFF ...

IDF troops on Wednesday shot and killed the leader of the Islamic Jihad group in Jenin who, defense sources say, was responsible for Tuesday's attempted suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

Mahmoud Abu Abait, 24, was traveling in a car in the center of Jenin when undercover IDF soldiers shot and killed him, the witnesses said. An Israeli combat helicopter was seen in the area at the time, they said.

According to Army Radio, defense sources said the would-be bomber who was arrested in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening admitted during his interrogation that Abait was the one who had sent him on the mission and supplied him with the homemade explosives he was carrying.
On Tuesday, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing attempt. The bomber was from the Jenin area....

Suicide bomber arrested near Tel Aviv

From Ynet News, 20/2/07, by Avi Cohen ...

Would-be bomber ditches explosives in Rishon LeZion dumpster, unclear if bomb was faulty or if he changed his mind. Bomber arrested with several other Palestinians in Bat Yam apartment

A suicide bombing in central Israel was narrowly avoided on Tuesday say security forces after the Palestinian man and his accomplices were arrested and the explosives uncovered.

Police and security forces operated extensively to thwart the attack throughout Tuesday afternoon and evening following intelligence information of a terrorist who had already infiltrated into Israel and was planning to carry out a bombing in Israel's coastal plain.

...Detailed Shin-Bet intelligence information led forces to an apartment in the city of Bat Yam, located south of Tel Aviv, where the cell was hiding. Forces raided the apartment, capturing the bomber and several accomplices. While the men were being questioned the building was evacuated and police sappers combed the apartment for explosives but none were found.

The would-be bomber told interrogators that he had arrived in Rishon LeZion in the early afternoon with the explosive device concealed in a backpack – which he says he intended to detonate inside Tel Aviv - but for reasons that still remain unclear he decided to dump the backpack into a garbage dumpster and head back to Bat Yam, where his accomplices were waiting in the apartment.

...A police sapper is currently trying to dismantle the explosive device found in Rishon LeZion, after the police robot was unable to do so.

The would-be suicide bomber is a Palestinian resident of the village of Jalbun, located northeast of Jenin in the northern West Bank. The man is a member of the Islamic Jihad and part of a cell which has carried out a string of terror attacks, acting on Syrian orders.

This morning he left from Jenin and intelligence information alerted security forces to his intentions. The bomb he intended to detonate is confirmed to have been wired with a large amount of explosives. The Shin Bet is currently questioning all those arrested in connection to the attempted attack.

At present time security forces report eight specific terror alerts, half of which originate from terror groups in the northern West Bank....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Statehood for Palestine?

From The Boston Globe, by Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist February 14, 2007 ...

.... in the Gaza Strip, where the Fatah-Hamas street battles have taken place, the "occupation" ended in August 2005, when Israel razed 21 Jewish settlements and expelled every Jew from the territory. For all intents and purposes, there has been a sovereign Palestinian state in Gaza for the past 18 months. The anarchy and violence, the kidnappings, the myriad of armed gangs -- that is the authentic face of Palestinian statehood. Take a good look.

"In the State of Palestine," writes the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick, "two-year-olds are killed and no one cares. Children are woken up in the middle of the night and murdered in front of their parents. Worshipers in mosques are gunned down by terrorists who attend competing mosques. . . . In the State of Palestine, women are stripped naked and forced to march in the streets to humiliate their husbands. Ambulances are stopped on the way to hospitals and the wounded are shot in cold blood."

The wonder is not that the Palestinian Authority seethes with violence and instability; there are other places too where bloodshed is the daily fare. The wonder is not that the Palestinians, who receive copious amounts of international aid -- more than $1.2 billion last year from Western governments alone -- channel so much of their resources into weapons and warfare. The wonder is that so many voices still push for a Palestinian state.

But has any population ever been less suited for statehood than the Palestinians? From the terrorists they choose as leaders to the jihad promoted in their schools, their culture is drenched in violence and hatred. Each time the world has offered them sovereignty -- an offer that the Kurds or the Chechens or the Tibetans would leap at -- the Palestinians have opted instead for bloodshed and rejectionism.

"What do you want more," a frustrated Shimon Peres once asked Yasser Arafat, "a Palestinian state or a Palestinian struggle?" Over and over, Palestinians have chosen the "struggle." The very essence of Palestinian national identity is a hunger for Israel's destruction. Both the Fatah and Hamas charters call for the obliteration of the Jewish state through bloodshed. A two-state solution -- Israel and Palestine living peacefully side-by-side -- is emphatically not what the Palestinians seek. No amount of Israeli concessions or American wheedling or Quartet cajoling is likely to change that.

So why does the Bush administration continue to pretend otherwise?

"There is simply no reason to avoid the subject of how we get to a Palestinian state," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blithely asserted Feb. 2, even as the best reason to do so -- the Palestinians' unfitness for self-government -- was on display in Gaza's streets. Last week Abbas agreed to form a "unity" government with Hamas, making any prospect of peace with Israel more remote. Yet next week Rice will host a summit meeting with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and there will be a fresh flood of empty words about peace and statehood.

James Woolsey, who served as director of central intelligence under President Clinton, said recently that it would take "many decades" before Palestinian society is civilized enough for statehood. Even some Palestinians might agree. "Everyone here is disgusted by what's happening in the Gaza Strip," Shireen Atiyeh, 30, a Palestinian Authority government worker, told the Jerusalem Post. "We are telling the world that we don't deserve a state. . . Today I'm ashamed to say that I'm a Palestinian."

When will it be time to consider statehood for Palestine? When it is led by people like her.

Summit expectations are very low

From Ynet News, 19/2/07, by Ronny Sofer ...

...Sources in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office said expectations were not high head of Monday’s summit meeting between Olmert , US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Peace won’t 'break out' in the three-way summit with Rice and Abbas,” a senior official said Sunday evening....Abbas will have to go back to Hamas and demand a change in stance in order for the international community and Israel to accept the new unity government...” ....

...Apart from the Quartet’s conditions, other issues will be discussed at the summit, including the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, ending Qassam rocket fire and terror acts, and putting a stop to smugglings from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

Since Israel and the US have already decided on rejecting the unity government if it did not acknowledge Israel, Abbas is likely not expecting the government to be accepted as he cannot guarantee Hamas’ stance on the issue.

According to a senior government source, Olmert will do his best to avoid putting Abbas in a difficult position. Olmert wants to preserve the relationship with the Palestinian President in order not to create a wedge in the Palestinian camp in which Hamas would be the extreme camp.

Livni made Israel’s stance on the issue clear during the weekly government meeting Sunday.

“The Palestinians tried to create a vague formula through the Mecca agreement. Although there is no disagreement with the US or Europe, what was agreed on does not fulfill the international community’s three conditions,” Livni said.

A senior official at Olmert’s office emphasized that the prime minister repeatedly said he would be willing to negotiate with Hamas if the organization accepted the Quartet’s three conditions.

From JPost, Feb. 19, 2007 1:39 Updated Feb. 19, 2007, by HERB KEINON ...

...Israeli officials are going into Monday's trilateral Israeli-Palestinian-US talks with almost no expectations, with one senior Israeli official saying Sunday that success at this meeting would be simply "agreeing to disagree."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met separately on Sunday with both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to prepare for her talks with both men together on Monday at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel.

Palestinians: Rice-Abbas talks 'difficult'
Officials in Olmert's office described the two-hour, private Olmert-Rice discussions as "intense." Israeli officials reiterated that there was "full coordination" with the US regarding the demand that the new Palestinian government accept the Quartet's three benchmarks - recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements - before being considered a partner.

The officials said that there was also full agreement with the US that these conditions were not negotiable.

An indication of how low the expectations are for the talks can be seen by the fact that no joint press conference or even joint appearance is planned following the meeting. Instead, Rice is expected to issue a brief statement and field a few questions afterward.

...The three-way Rice, Olmert, Abbas meeting is expected to start at 10 a.m. The three leaders are then expected - depending on how the talks go - to be joined between 45 to 90 minutes later by their advisers.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday on her preparatory talks Saturday night with Rice, and said it was clear to both the US and Israel that the road for the new Palestinian government's legitimacy passes through acceptance of the three conditions.
Livni said "the ball was now in Abbas's court," and that he had to take action to separate himself from Hamas and get the new government to accept the three Quartet principles.

Livni said there was no disagreement with either the US or with Europe that what was agreed between Hamas and Fatah at Mecca did not meet the three criteria.

Government officials said Israel decided to go ahead and take part in Monday's meeting because refusing to do so would have meant Israel would be seen in the eyes of the world as the party not willing to explore options to move the diplomatic process forward. Furthermore, the officials said the high-profile meeting was a good place for Israel to place before the world its demand that kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit be freed and that the PA government moderate its positions....

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)

Mecca agreement doesn't meet Quartet conditions

From Feb. 17, 2007 By ASSOCIATED PRESS [emphasis added]...

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arriving for a Mideast summit, said Saturday that it's an "important time" to discuss the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, despite what she described as complications created by the emerging Palestinian government.

However, Rice and Foreign Minister Tzip Livni reiterated the need for any Palestinian government to meet the three conditions for international acceptance - recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting interim peace deals with Israel.

Livni said last week's power-sharing ["Mecca"] agreement between moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic militant group Hamas does "not meet the requirements" of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the US, the EU, the UN and Russia.

"I think that also the moderates on the Palestinian side need to understand that the path toward a Palestinian state goes through the renunciation of violence and terrorism and not by compromising with terror," Livni said in an apparent reference to Abbas.

The platform of an emerging Hamas-Fatah coalition only contains a promise to "respect" previous peace agreements, at best implying recognition of Israel.

Rice reiterated that she would not judge the new Palestinian government until it has been established, but acknowledged that the coalition talks are overshadowing Monday's summit. Abbas aides have said they were warned by US officials that a government with the platform as is would be shunned by Washington.

"We are between the announcement of the intention to form a government and the actual formation of that government," Rice said, noting that the Quartet has reaffirmed its principles.

"I have said if there was a perfect time to come to the Middle East, you wouldn't get on an air plane, and so despite the complications it's an important time to have these discussions ... about the principles of two states for two peoples," she said.