haniyeh gaza 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reiterated his opposition to recognizing Israel's right to exist and halting terrorism on Wednesday, but the comments were not enough to deter Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from his intention to meet in the near future with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
As Abbas was meeting with US President George W. Bush in New York on Wednesday, Haniyeh addressed supporters in Gaza City, saying the Hamas-led government would not accept the conditions set by America and the rest of the Quartet for resuming financial aid to the Palestinians.
"They are imposing unacceptable conditions on our people," Haniyeh said in statements that were seen as a warning to Abbas not to succumb to US pressure.
"They want us to condemn the heroic resistance and recognize the agreements [signed between Israel and the PLO]. But we will continue to abide by the national reconciliation document [drafted by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails], which does not recognize the legitimacy of the occupation."
Haniyeh added that the document, which he believes should serve as the political program for a future unity government, clearly states that the Palestinians have the right to continue the "resistance" against Israel.
Despite Haniyeh's comments, Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, "The prime minister is willing to meet Abbas, who accepts the three conditions, is a moderate and believes in a two-state solution."
Asked what good it would do for Olmert to meet Abbas since Hamas calls the shots in the PA, Eisin said, "They could talk about how to empower the moderates."
Eisin added that Olmert believes the Palestinian issue needs to be addressed by "empowering the moderates, and not giving in to the extremists."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Abbas Monday evening at the United Nations in New York, and an Olmert-Abbas meeting is expected soon.
For Palestinian politics, Haniyeh's remarks are yet another indication of the deepening crisis between Abbas and Hamas over the formation of a unity government. Moreover, his remarks contradict statements by Abbas aides to the effect that a unity government would recognize Israel and honor all agreements with Israel.
Sources close to Abbas said they did not rule out the possibility that he would declare a state of emergency upon his return and fire the Hamas-led government. They added that Abbas was "fed up with Hamas's contradictory statements and false promises."
PA officials in Ramallah said Abbas was trying to win US backing for his efforts to form a unity government with Hamas on the basis of the Arab peace initiative that was announced in Beirut in 2002 and which talks about a two-state solution.
"Abbas is convinced that Hamas will eventually accept the Arab peace initiative and abide by the agreements with Israel," said one official.
Fatah leaders on Wednesday accused Hamas of working to undermine the planned unity government and increase schism among the Palestinians.
Referring to statements by Hamas leaders, according to which they would not recognize Israel and the agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, the Fatah leaders said in a statement issued in Gaza City: "Every now and then Hamas spokesmen come out with statements aimed at poisoning the atmosphere on the national front. This shows that they are seeking to undermine the agreement to form a national unity government."
Jamal Nazzal, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, accused Haniyeh and his followers of "diverting" from the policy of their spiritual leader, Ahmed Yassin, "who was always very keen on preserving national unity." He also accused Hamas of recruiting many writers and journalists to defame and discredit Abbas and other Fatah leaders. "They are dreaming of a civil war that would serve as an excuse for them to avoid fulfilling their responsibilities," he said.
Former PA security minister Muhammad Dahlan accused Hamas of changing its position regarding the political program of the proposed unity government. He said Hamas was preparing for a wave of political assassinations and warned against the eruption of a civil war in the PA territories.
In response, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Dahlan of "promoting" the idea of civil war and of serving the interests of foreign parties.
"Some Palestinian figures are continuing to serve the interests and agendas of foreign parties by spreading lies about Hamas," he said. "Hamas has nothing to do with the recent assassinations that occurred in the Gaza Strip."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev responded to Haniyeh's remarks by saying that, were the Palestinian leadership to accept the Quartet's three benchmarks and bring about the immediate release of abducted Cpl. Gilad Shalit, "that would immediately energize the peace process, and Israel would respond expeditiously with substantive confidence-building measures."
Regev said it was "unfortunate" that Haniyeh's remarks "would appear to be nothing more than a recipe for further stagnation that serves neither the interests of the Israelis nor those of the Palestinians."
The confidence-building measures that have been discussed recently in Jerusalem include renewing monthly tax revenue transfers to the PA, withdrawing IDF forces from Gaza - where the army reentered soon after Shalit's abduction in June - and the possibility of a Palestinian prisoner release.
But this was all conditioned on the PA's acceptance of the three benchmarks.
"If the Palestinian prime minister continues with stubbornly opposing the benchmarks laid down by the international community, he is first and foremost doing his own people a disservice by isolating the Palestinian government from the international community, and closing the door on the peace process," Regev said.
The Quartet had demanded that the Hamas-led government recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements signed between the PLO and Israel.
However, not everybody in the Quartet, which drew up these conditions, is solidly behind them. The assessments in Jerusalem are that the Russians are urging the other Quartet members - the US, EU and the UN - to show some flexibility.
Officials in Jerusalem expressed confidence that there would be no substantive changes to the benchmarks, since the US, as well as Britain, Germany and France, are opposed to changing them.
While Russia charts an independent foreign policy line in the UN Security Council, inside the Quartet it has not been known to initiate much on its own, and generally follows the lead of the US and Europe.
While some smaller European states, such as Finland and Spain, have indicated there might be some room for flexibility in these benchmarks, Israeli officials said that at the end of the day this matter would likely be determined by the position of France, Germany and Britain.