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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the international community to continue to boycott the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority unless it changes its policies toward Israel, even as Fatah and Hamas met Monday night to form a national unity government in a bid to gain international legitimacy.
But the French and Italian foreign ministers welcomed the idea of a new PA leadership and indicated it could be a basis for ending the eight-month freeze on aid to the PA government.
Under the emerging plan, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and his ministers would be replaced by a team of experts in the hope that this would prove sufficient to prompt a resumption of international aid.
Haniyeh and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah met for more than two hours in Gaza Monday night to hammer out the last details of the plan, though they failed to sign an accord. Both sides said the talks would continue Tuesday, but wouldn't specify which issues remained open.
Livni told The Jerusalem Post that the formation of a national unity government would not change Israel's stance toward the PA; it has frozen contacts and tax and tariff revenue transfers since Hamas took office in March.
Whether Hamas was in the government or not made no difference, she said ahead of her trip to Los Angeles to participate in the United Jewish Communities' General Assembly. "It doesn't matter what their names are," said Livni of the potential new PA ministers. "What matters to me is the guiding principles of the Palestinian government. Any Palestinian government has to meet the three conditions" - recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous official Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
The Quartet - the EU, US, UN and Russia - has withheld funds from the PA because of its refusal to accept those demands.
The emerging government's draft platform is vague about the recognition of Israel.
Livni said that without a change in the PA's position, she saw no reason for the Quartet to change its stance, adding, "I hope there will be no erosion" in its determination.
But French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that the EU would ask the World Bank to stop bypassing the PA government when distributing aid and ask Israel to release the frozen tax monies if a national unity government emerged.
"If there is a new government in the Palestinian territory," Douste-Blazy said, "we would love this government right away, because we think it's a chance for peace and political dialogue."
He added, "The European Union will be present from the start."
Douste-Blazy's Italian counterpart, Massimo d'Alema, said, "The right of Palestinians to have a state, and Israelis their security, today requires a stronger engagement from the international community."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated the UK would be willing to negotiate with a Hamas-led government if it met international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
A US State Department official spoke more vaguely about the implications of a national unity government, noting that the issues were still under discussion.
"As we have stated before, the international community, including the US, looks forward to working with a Palestinian government that governs responsibly and is interested in making progress toward peace. This means a Palestinian government that accepts the Quartet principles," he said. "We have welcomed efforts by President Abbas to form a national unity government that reflects these principles."
Livni stressed that the international community had maintained a firm line against the PA ever since Hamas entered office.
"Eleven months ago, no one would have bet a shekel" that the relevant world players would have held to the three Quartet demands as a prerequisite for funding, she said. But the international community had stuck to these requirements and "to the maintenance of the definition of Hamas as a terror organization."
Top Hamas leaders have yet to decide whether to accept the national unity plan, and similar negotiations have broken down before.
The new proposal would enable Hamas to appoint eight ministers and Fatah would choose four, with the remainder of the portfolios awarded to smaller parties. The new prime minister would be chosen by Hamas.
Abbas has urged Hamas to choose an independent, to make the new government more attractive to the international community, Abbas aides have said.
Hamas's top decision-making body, the secret Shura Council, is to decide in the coming days whether to accept the proposal.
Wasfi Kibha, a Hamas cabinet minister, said ahead of Monday's meeting that the sides have reached an agreement in principle but still needed to wrap up important details.
AP contributed to this report.