david welch 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Concerned that the world is looking for ways to legitimize the Palestinian Authority even after Hamas forms the PA government, Israel's leaders went on the offensive Sunday saying that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas "is not relevant" and cannot serve as a "fig leaf" for Hamas.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch Sunday that there cannot be two Palestinian authorities, a "good one" that is represented by Abbas with which the international community wants to continue doing business, and a "bad one" represented by Hamas.
Hamas represents the PA, officials in Olmert's office quoted Olmert as telling Welch. He said that Hamas has a majority in the Palestinian parliament, the prime minister is from Hamas, and the government will be formed by Hamas.
Israel, diplomatic officials pointed out, wants to ensure that the international community does not waver from its demand that Hamas recognize Israel, disavow terrorism, and accept previous agreements before the international community will deal with the PA.
Officials in the prime minister's office said that Israel and the US are "on the same page" regarding Hamas, and agreed what the organization needed to do before gaining international legitimacy.
The only difference, the officials said, was one of timing - with the US position being that the world's relationship with the PA should change only after a Hamas government was formed, while Israel's position was that the PA has already turned into a terrorist entity since and should be treated accordingly.
US embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said that while he could not talk about the specifics of the Welch meeting, "the US and Israel agree on the way forward."
Prior to meeting Olmert, Welch met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who also impressed upon him that Abbas was no longer relevant because Hamas was effectively in control of the instruments of the PA government.
"The PA has itself turned into a terrorist entity," Livni said. She said that the "ball is now in the Palestinian court," and that the PA must decide whether it accepted the international community's preconditions for legitimacy.
Abbas, she said, "can't be a fig leaf for a terrorist authority. Abu Mazen can't be a pretty face for ugly terror that hides behind it."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also met Welch Sunday, and said Hamas was trying to obtain Iran's support and create a dangerous alliance with Teheran.
"These attempts will create an axis of evil from Iran to Syria through Hizbullah and to Hamas here in Israel", Mofaz warned. "We also know of attempts by Hamas to reinforce its ties with Hizbullah, a move that would enhance Iran's influence within the Palestinian Authority."
"That is something we will not allow," he added. Mofaz said that Hamas was trying to put on a show of acting responsibly in order to impress the international community. The organization's refusal to accept Israel's conditions, Mofaz said, indicated their real intentions. "They plan to set up a government, take over the PA security forces and turn the Palestinian Authority into a Hamas Authority," he said.
Mofaz told Welch that Israel was concerned with the possibility Hamas would keep up its terror activity following the formation of a new Palestinian government. "If that happens," Mofaz said, "we will place the responsibility on the PA."
After that meeting, Mofaz told the weekly cabinet meeting that the Palestinian terrorist organizations are continuing to try and carry out terrorist attacks, with Islamic Jihad leading the pack.
He said there were currently 10 terrorist attack alerts.
Mofaz said that Israel's policy of "targeted interceptions" would continue. "We will get to the doorstep of the terrorists and those who dispatch them," he said.
In a related development, the cabinet on Sunday decided to accept in principle the Ben-Bassat Committee's recommendations to shorten compulsory military service. Mofaz, together with the Justice Ministry, was now charged with turning those recommendations into legislation.
Under the recommendations, the current three year compulsory service would be shortened incrementally to two years by the year 2010.
"I think that the balance of two years of compulsory service is a balance that Israel can deal with," Olmert said.
Olmert also related during the discussion to the issue of reform of the Hesder Yeshivot arrangement, saying that the Hesder Yeshivot "are a national asset that I would be very hesitant to change."
He said that for the most part the Hesder yeshiva students were "exceptional," committed, and full of voluntarism and enthusiasm.
"These are frameworks which we need to preserve without opening, precisely now, discussions and issues that could impact our internal stability," Olmert said.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.