Israeli Officials Welcome Quartet Decision to Maintain PA Boycott

Rice voices veiled criticism of Hamas, asks clarification of new PA platform's endorsement of 'resistance.'

Gideon Alon
Aluf Benn
Shmuel Rosner
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Gideon Alon
Aluf Benn
Shmuel Rosner

Senior Foreign Ministry officials Tuesday welcomed the decision of the Quartet of Middle East mediators to maintain their aid embargo against the Palestinian government, Israel Radio reported.

"Israel has not detected a collapse in the international position against Hamas," the radio quoted an unnamed senior official as saying

European officials said on Monday they were optimistic the new authority would ultimately meet conditions needed for it to be scrapped, but after Quartet ministers spoke by telephone, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said there was no change in the aid embargo unless the new government met the demands placed on it. A Quartet statement will likely be released on Tuesday.

The European Union External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said the mechanism used by the Quartet to get money to the Palestinians while bypassing the government would be extended for three months while it made a judgment on the new government.

The United Nations, EU, Russia and the United States, the members of the Quartet, have demanded the Hamas-led government recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to Israeli-Palestinian accords before the embargo is lifted.

Speaking on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced veiled criticism of Hamas and initial policy statements of the new Palestinian government.

Rice, who will visit the Palestinian territories and Israel in the coming days, said she wanted clarity from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over what he meant when he said the Palestinian people had a "right to resistance," a phrase in the new government's platform that has rankled Israel and others.

"I am not going to try to interpret what the right of resistance means, but I'll tell you it doesn't sound very good to me when one talks about all forms of resistance," Rice said.

"So I would put the question to the Palestinian government and to its prime minister - do you mean the right of resistance by violence? And let's get an answer."

The armed wing of Hamas Monday claimed responsibility for a shooting attack in which an Israeli civilian was wounded near an entrance to the Gaza Strip.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice was "pointing out that it is incumbent on the Palestinians to further define exactly what they mean, rather than just use some sort of catch phrase that's rather antiseptic."

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said Monday that the new Palestinian government has not yet met the Quartet's conditions for lifting the aid embargo.

"We expect very much that this government... will be taking the positions of the Quartet as much as possible and in the end completely," he told a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other European ministers."

Ferrero-Waldner said some members of the new Palestinian government had already indicated they would support Quartet principles and she hoped they would have some influence.

"This presents an opportunity and we have to think carefully how to respond to it," she said.

"We will have to judge the new government by its actions and its words and I do hope that the momentum towards fulfillment of the three Quartet principles will indeed be maintained," she said.

"It is very important that, in this delicate moment, we at least can go on with our temporary international mechanism," she said.

She said other Quartet members were also interested in her idea of finding a more permanent mechanism to help build institutions in the Palestinian territories.

"We are looking at what could be done as if a Palestinian state comes about we have to have institutions that function according to good governance," said Ferrero-Waldner.

The United States, while pushing for the embargo to stay in place, has softened its stand on having contacts with the new Palestinian government and McCormack said Washington could deal with some non-Hamas members in the government on a case-by-case basis.

A senior Norwegian government official met with Haniyeh in Gaza on Monday, marking the country's restoration of political and economic ties with the Palestinian government. Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen was the first senior European official to meet the new government.

Norway became the first country to lift sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in response to the approval of a new unity government on Saturday.

Johansen flew to the Middle East on Sunday, and met Haniyeh on Monday morning. More meetings were planned for later in the day, said ministry spokesman Roy Freddy Andersen.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a key player in Middle East peacemaking and a major aid donor to the Palestinian Authority.

The European Union presidency, currently held by Germany, said Saturday that it is willing to work with the new coalition government and resume aid, but only if Hamas first meets those three demands.

Meanwhile, Italy's foreign minister said on Monday ahead of talks with Rice that it would be a "serious mistake to shut the door in the face" of the new Palestinian unity government.

Israel has called on the international community to continue to isolate the Palestinian government.

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