Olmert: We Will Only Support PA Unity Gov't That Recognizes Israel

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this morning and will declare Israel's intention to take "unprecedented steps" vis-a-vis the Palestinians, if the Palestinian Authority government meets the criteria spelt out by the Quartet.

The meeting between Olmert and Rice will revolve around ways to boost the position of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as a means to further the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The prime minister will stress that his is a "peace government" but without the Palestinians meeting the three international preconditions - recognition of Israel, acceptance of previous accords, and relinquishing violence - it is impossible to more forward.

Olmert will also warn that the establishment of a Palestinian government of national unity, which does not adopt the preconditions set by the Quartet, will bring an end to Israel's efforts to support Abbas.

Yesterday, Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that the violence between Fatah and Hamas, which led to the deaths of 20 people last week, was considered by the Palestinians as crossing a "red line." He added that this could result in greater flexibility on the part of the factions in agreeing on a government of national unity.

Political sources in Jerusalem said yesterday that "the Palestinians are now talking about the division of ministerial portfolios in the new government, without committing themselves to accept the Quartet preconditions."

Meanwhile, in an interview on Channel 10 yesterday, Rice said the road map must be implemented and there is no reason to skip over any of its stages.

Her comment was in part referring to an earlier rejection by Abbas of the idea that the second stage of the road map - calling for a Palestinian state based on temporary borders - was a realistic possibility at this stage.

She also said that in her talks with Abbas yesterday, he had reiterated his wish and willingness to carry out Palestinian obligations laid out in the road map.

Following their meeting in Ramallah yesterday, Abbas announced that he would not agree to a Palestinian state within temporary borders, as is proposed in the second stage of the road map.

"We do not consider this possibility a realistic one that we can build on," the Palestinian leader said.

Other Palestinian officials also voiced their opposition to such an arrangement, saying that it would stymie progress toward a final settlement.

Rice said that the United States intends to deepen its involvement in the peace process, aiming to restart it on the basis of the road map.

"We are here in order to examine ways of continuing the existing momentum in Israeli-Palestinian relations," Rice said.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah said the secretary of state did not raise any new ideas about the peace process, but asserted that she had expressed her willingness to act in order to further the process during the final two years of President Bush's term in office.

Abbas briefed Rice on Palestinian efforts at forming a government of national unity and said that unless these progressed in the near future, he would insist on holding early elections - both parliamentary and presidential - in the Palestinian Authority.

There have been reports in recent days that a summit of the leaderships of both Fatah and Hamas is being organized in Damascus, with the specific aim of finalizing an agreement for a national unity government.

Abbas denied that any such meeting is scheduled to take place.

According to the reports, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Sheikh Mohammed Akef, was instrumental in convincing Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, and Abbas to meet in order to iron out their differences.

Palestinian sources say that the two sides disagree on who the interior minister in a unity government would be, with Hamas insisting that the current minister, Saeed Siyam, continue to hold his post.

While Syria and Bashar Assad may host a Palestinian unity summit, Rice said yesterday that the United States did not intend to alter its approach to Damascus.

Saying that there were very few signs that Syria has something positive to say, Rice accused Syria of efforts to undermine the government in Lebanon, and of playing a negative role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.