Saturday, March 17, 2007

Israel Rejects Palestinian Government

Israeli leaders criticized the new Palestinian unity government charging that the Hamas-Fatah coalition did not meet international conditions, including recognizing the Jewish state's right to exist. The new government, formed after months of stormy negotiations, is slated to be approved by Parliament on Saturday. Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister, said Israel would boycott the coalition between the hardline Islamic Hamas and the more moderate Fatah "and explain to the countries of the world that they can't work with a government like this." Sneh, a member of the left-leaning Labor Party, said Israel should circumvent the new government and try to strike a peace agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. "That is the only way to drive Hamas out of power," Sneh said, speaking to Israel Radio. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Thursday he hoped the new government will "launch a new era" for the Palestinians. The deal aims to end Palestinian infighting that has claimed more than 140 lives, while satisfying international demands ahead of a crucial Arab summit in Saudi Arabia at the end of March and a visit to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this month.But the new government's platform does not explicitly meet any of the international community's demands - that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and commit to previously signed peace agreements. The "Quartet" of Mideast mediators, made up of the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia, posed the three requirements for restoring aid, but they are also seen as conditions for resuming peace negotiations. The Palestinian unity deal instead refers vaguely to "respect" for agreements and affirms the Palestinians' right to resist and "defend themselves against any Israeli aggression," though it also calls for maintaining and expanding a truce with Israel. Israel urged the West to maintain the aid boycott imposed a year ago after Hamas defeated Fatah in an election and formed a government. The boycott crippled the government and caused widespread hardship, forcing Hamas to agree to bring Fatah back as a junior partner. A dormant Saudi peace plan from 2002 is expected to resurface at the Arab summit in two weeks, putting pressure on Israel to respond. The plan offers Israel recognition if it withdraws from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, also referring to the right of Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 Mideast war and their millions of descendants to return to their homes. Israel has said parts of the plan are worthy of consideration, but it rejects a full withdrawal from the territories and return of refugees, saying an influx of millions of Palestinians would end Israel's existence as a Jewish state. So far international mediators are leaving room for maneuver over the new Palestinian governing team. Among the Quartet members, the most positive reaction came from Moscow. "It is inarguably an important event in terms of consolidation of the Palestinian ranks," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement, noting that the Mecca accord "took into account" the Quartet conditions. The U.S. and EU were more cool. White House spokesman Tony Snow, saying he did not want to express disappointment, indicated Thursday that there would be no change in the U.S. administration's refusal to deal with the Palestinian government unless its platform changed. "Our position has been consistent, which is, you need a Palestinian government that is going to, in fact, abide by the Quartet conditions," Snow said. Speaking to reporters Thursday, EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the European Commission had yet to assess the new government's program.