Cracks appeared to emerge between the United States and Israel Monday on how to proceed with the Palestinian unity government. The State Department clung to the concept of creating a "political horizon" of Palestinian statehood, while Israel rejected the idea. The US said it would not automatically cut off non-Hamas ministers in the new government, but would evaluate contacts on a "case-by-case basis." Israel has said it would not deal with any Palestinian officials except for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
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The cabinet decided Sunday that even conversations with Abbas would be limited to addressing security and humanitarian issues, while talks on a political horizon - or what the contours of a Palestinian state might look like - were ruled out.
In contrast, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to support having "discussions informally about the political horizon so that Palestinian people do understand that there is a prospect of a Palestinian state on the horizon via the negotiating table," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post. "That's an important thing for the Palestinian people to understand."
Both the US and Israel recently had been pushing for the creation of a "political horizon" of the contours of a Palestinian state, in the hopes that Palestinians would turn away from Hamas and back Abbas, who has called for accommodation with Israel.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Abbas twice in the past month. Rice, who is planning to return to the region next week, attended one of the meetings.
Despite little to show for the meetings, Israel had - until the formation of the PA unity government - continued to use the same language as Rice in touting the prospects of a political horizon. But that has eroded after the establishment of the new government, whose platform doesn't adhere to the three Quartet principles of renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and accepting previous agreements with Israel.
Because those principles aren't accepted by the new government, McCormack said the US would hold firm on keeping aid money away from the PA, while funneling humanitarian funds through nongovernmental organizations and the UN. He said the State Department continued to support an allocation of $86 million to train and equip security forces loyal to Abbas, which would bypass the Hamas-led government.
McCormack said the PA's presidential guard continued to report to Abbas. The US administration wanted to "make sure that in providing that money, the chains of command and reporting relationships are such that none of that funding would cross any legal or regulatory lines that we have," he added.
Congress has already held up the funding, though it has been legislated and doesn't need to go through the formal allocating process.
Incoming PA Finance Minister Salaam Fayad, a Western-oriented Washington favorite, is one of the non-Hamas ministers the US is likely to have contact with.
"In this national unity government there are individuals - at least one individual who I can think of right off the top of my head - with whom we have in the past had contact," McCormack said, presumably referring to Fayad. "Our position is that we are not going to suspend contact solely based on an individual's membership in the national unity government. We're going to take a look at that on a case-by-case basis."
McCormack said the long-standing policy of refusing to have any dealings with members of a "foreign terrorist organization," which is how the US administration has labeled Hamas, would continue. As such, the US would have no contact with Hamas members of the government.