Rice Abbas 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Wednesday night in Jerusalem, with their discussion focusing primarily on the growing chaos in the Palestinian Authority.
Olmert told Rice that he was interested in strengthening PA President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas. However, Israel would not help Abbas by releasing Palestinian prisoners before captured soldier Gilad Shalit was returned home.
Burning Issues #4: Should Israel support Abbas?
The prime minister did promise to reopen the Karni cargo crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and told Rice that Defense Minister Amir Peretz would lay out a more detailed plan for aiding the Palestinians during Rice's visit with the defense minister scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Olmert did not rule out other humanitarian gestures towards the Palestinians, such as the transferring of funds to hospitals and purchasing medicine.
Rice also expressed her concerns to Olmert about Iran's nuclear program, saying that Teheran has rejected all the proposals put forth on the matter by the international community.
Abbas on Wednesday vowed to fire the Hamas-led government before the end of the month unless it changed its policies, accepted Israel's right to exist, and recognized all the agreements that were signed with Israel.
Abbas's pledge was made during his meeting with Rice, who voiced Washington's full support for the PA chairman and his Fatah party in their confrontation with Hamas, PA officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Hamas officials, meanwhile, claimed that Rice's talks with Abbas and some Fatah leaders were designed to set the stage for launching a coup against the Hamas-led government. The allegation came as a senior Hamas leader in the Kalkilya area was gunned down by unidentified gunmen as he was on his way to dawn prayers at a local mosque.
"President Abbas made it clear to Rice that he will give Hamas one last chance to comply with the conditions of the Quartet for resuming financial aid to the Palestinians," said a top Abbas aide. "If Hamas does not accept these conditions, which include recognition of Israel and a commitment to abide by all the agreements that were signed between the PLO and Israel, then the president will fire the government and establish a new one."
Another senior PA official told the Post that Abbas was "satisfied" with the results of his talks with Rice, noting that the US administration had promised its full backing for any move aimed at overthrowing the Hamas-led government.
"The president heard encouraging statements from Rice," he said. "He has the backing not only of the US, but the entire international community, as well as many Arab countries."
Following the meeting, Rice told reporters she had "great admiration" for Abbas. Addressing Abbas, she added: "You have the strong support of the US and a personal commitment from President George Bush and me."
Rice also said she hoped it would "not be very long" before Abbas meets with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She said the US will "redouble efforts" to help the Palestinians because it was aware of the hard work that needed to be done in order to achieve a two-state solution.
Rice added that the US was "very concerned" about the plight of the Palestinians and pledged to improve living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas, speaking alongside Rice, said that he preferred to form a national unity government that would abide by all the agreements signed with Israel.
"If this does not happen, then all options are open for forming a new Palestinian government," he said.
Abbas held Hamas responsible for the failure of negotiations over the formation of a unity government and said he would soon have to take measures to resolve the current crisis in the PA.
"The talks with Hamas cannot continue forever," he added. "These talks have failed because Hamas backtracked on an agreement that was reached last month to establish a unity government."
Abbas said he also discussed with Rice the case of Gilad Shalit and called for resolving the issue on the basis of a prisoner exchange with Israel.
Earlier, Abbas met in his office with visiting Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and informed him that he had frozen his contacts with Hamas.
"There is no dialogue now," Abbas said after the meeting. A preliminary coalition agreement announced September 11 "is over now, and we have to start from square one," he said.
Before heading to Ramallah, Rice met in east Jerusalem with a group of Palestinian leaders, including members of Abbas's Fatah party. One of the participants, Kadoura Fares, said the talks focused on ways of strengthening Abbas.
"President Abbas was weakened after the parliamentary election [last January]," he said. "There is a need now to strengthen Fatah because the president needs a strong party behind him."