(photo credit: Associated Press)
Financial support for the Palestinian Authority should continue while there is an interim government, Quartet principals decided during a conference call Monday, a day before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice set out for a trip to the region.
Rice did not schedule a stop in Israel even though her talks are focusing on two matters critical to the country - Hamas and a nuclear Iran.
Israeli officials said there was no intent by Rice to "slight" Jerusalem, and added that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was just in Washington two weeks ago.
"No one here is insulted," one official said. "Her visit is dealing with Iraq, Iran and how the outside world deals with Hamas. This is not the first time that senior administration officials have come to the region without visiting Jerusalem."
Rice will travel from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and then to the United Arab Emirates on her five-day tour.
One diplomatic official said that she did not come to Israel to avoid the tricky issue of going to Ramallah and having to decide with whom to meet.
Other diplomatic officials said there was concern in the US administration about Rice coming to visit during an election campaign, and that any meeting with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be interpreted as somehow interfering in the campaign.
Olmert, meanwhile, said in a Channel 1 interview that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told him that he viewed him as his successor.
Olmert, who said he was perhaps the person most loyal to Sharon, said that when Sharon urged him to leave the Jerusalem Municipality and run again for a Knesset seat, he told him, "'Ehud, when the day comes, I want you to be able to naturally jump into my position.'" Olmert said that this was why Sharon made sure to appoint him as his replacement.
He also quoted Sharon as telling his advisers to involve him in "everything." He quoted the advisers as telling him that Sharon said, "What I know, he also needs to know."
This is the first time Olmert has said publicly that Sharon deemed him his political heir.
The Quartet's decision to continue funding the interim PA government came a day after Israel decided to stop further transfers of customs and tax revenue to the PA, a sum that amounts to between $50 million and $60 million a month.
Rice arrived in Cairo Tuesday on the first leg of a trip that will focus on building Arab opposition to Hamas and to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"The international community expects that any Palestinian government will have to meet certain requirements of governing, which means a dedication to peace, a dedication to the agreements that the Palestinians have signed on to before," Rice said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.
"Obviously you can't have peace if you don't recognize the other partner," Rice said, adding that Hamas needed to recognize Israel's right to exist and needed to renounce terrorism.
Before departing for Cairo, Rice spoke via conference call with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
According to a Western diplomatic official familiar with the conversation, the Quartet agreed on the following points:
Financial support to the interim PA government should continue.
Humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians would continue.
The Quartet principals should increase their cooperation and talk each week.
Ways to support PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas needed to be determined
Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn is to provide a summary of the PA's financial requirements, potential sources of funding and the gap between what money is needed and what is available.
Wolfensohn's report, due Wednesday, is designed to give the Quartet an accurate picture of how much money the PA needs to keep it from financial collapse.
Solana, in a press conference Tuesday, touched on these points and also said that the Quartet would assess the situation in the PA once the new government was formed. He reiterated that the Quartet stood by its previous demands of Hamas.
These demands are that the organization must recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and disarm, and accept all previous agreements with Israel.