Israel to Snub Foreign Envoys Who Meet Hamas Ministers

Israel will snub foreign statesmen who meet with Hamas ministers, serving in the cabinet of the Palestinian unity government.

Political sources in Jerusalem said yesterday that according to a government decision of April 2006, whoever meets Hamas ministers will not be invited to meet Israeli officials during that same visit. The decision is still in effect and will henceforth be applied in an effort to prevent international recognition of Hamas.

However, Jacob Walles, U.S. Consul General and Chief of Mission in Jerusalem, met yesterday with the Palestinian Finance Minister, Salam Fayyad, in Ramallah.

This is the first meeting between a senior American official and a minister in the Palestinian government since the swearing in of the new unity government.

In the past the U.S. said it would not cooperate with the Palestinian government unless it met the three preconditions of the international Quartet - recognition of Israel, accepting PLO-Israel accords, and relinquishing violence.

But in recent days the U.S. announced that it would not sever links with moderate individuals appointed as ministers in the government. Fayyad served in the Fatah-led government and is widely respected.

There was no comment available from the American consulate, and Fayyad also declined to make a statement.

However, a Palestinian source said that "the Americans are willing to work with Fayyad. They recognize that his role is positive and he has influence and the ability to control the funds of the PA - those coming in from abroad and those coming from taxes and Israel."

Nonetheless, meetings scheduled yesterday for Norway's Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen with deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and with the Director General of the Foreign Ministry Aharon Abramovitch, were canceled.

Johansen met on Monday with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and exercised the decision of the Norwegian government to lift the diplomatic boycott that has been in place since Hamas came to power in the Palestinian Authority in February 2006.

The Foreign Ministry announced that the meeting of the director with the Norwegian minister was canceled because of "time table pressures," and that there is no policy of spurning those meeting Hamas officials.

This was also the official explanation given to Johansen.

However, in parallel, the Prime Minister's bureau instructed Sneh to cancel his meeting with Johansen, in line with the government decision on the matter.

Norwegian journalists who sought Sneh's response on the matter said it is possible that Johansen "carried essential information on the abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit." They were told that in such case, Johansen should turn to the office of Ofer Dekel, the official in charge of efforts to free the prisoners.

The policy of spurning European officials began in the 1990s and was directed against those who visited the Orient House, the center of PLO activity in East Jerusalem that has since been closed down.