The US stressed its support for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, looking for ways to bolster the struggling Palestinian leader after the Hamas takeover of Gaza. The Quartet - the EU, UN, Russia and the US - also affirmed its support for Abbas and his decision to form a new government. Following a conference call Friday, the Quartet expressed "understanding and support for President Abbas's decisions to dissolve the cabinet and declare an emergency, given the grave circumstances," as well of their "necessity and legitimacy." The United States is considering removing the ban on aid to the PA in light of the new Palestinian government under Abbas, with money flowing to him as opposed to what had been the Hamas-led government.
Analysis: Israel's ongoing Gaza connection
Comment: What to do about Gaza?
Fatah declares war on Hamas in W. Bank
Jacob Walles, the US envoy responsible for dealings with the Palestinians, told Reuters that Washington and its Quartet partners would make an announcement next week about lifting the sanctions in place since Hamas came to power in March 2006.
"I think... there won't be any obstacles, economically and politically, in terms of reengaging with this (Abbas-appointed) government. Yes, they will have full support," Walles told Reuters.
Washington and Jerusalem are also talking about what steps Israel might take to support Abbas, including releasing tax money and freeing up movement within the West Bank. The points are due to be discussed when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives in Washington this week.
"I don't think there's going to be much easing on the security measures," an Israeli diplomatic official in Washington said, but added that other moves might be possible.
If a new Palestinian government accepts the three Quartet demands of renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and accepting previous agreements - for which Abbas has previously indicated support - the diplomatic official said Israel would be "very positive and forward-thinking" and that "there's no reason Israel wouldn't want to help" the new government.
Meanwhile, he said, Israel has no intention of working with Hamas in Gaza. The US also indicated it would be taking a hands-off approach to the coastal strip, now under control of the Islamic party which it, along with Israel and the EU, consider a terrorist organization.
"Hamas now has responsibility for providing sustenance and other material needs for the Palestinians in Gaza. We'll see what happens," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters on Friday.
At the same time, he said, "It is all the more important to try to resolve the practical daily irritants in the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and all the more important to work on what we have referred to as a political horizon, so that the Palestinian people understand that there is a very clear pathway for them to achieve a Palestinian state."
Under that view, he said, the administration is "committed to trying to move forward the Palestinian-Israeli track as well as the Israeli-Arab track."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is still planning her upcoming trip to the region with the perspective that it has become "all the more important to continue those efforts to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to come together in the wake of what Hamas has done."
The US program of strengthening Abbas in the West Bank and continuing the diplomatic process with him to create a "political horizon" of a Palestinian state there, while Hamas is left to its own devices - sans international aid - in Gaza, has been branded by analysts as a new "West Bank first" approach.
That approach was "implicit" in a meeting the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations held with US President George W. Bush, Rice, National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, Chief of Staff Josh Bolton and other administration officials in the White House Thursday, according to one of the participants.
The conversation also touched on Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and other regional concerns in the hour-long meeting. Bush noted that he hadn't yet decided whether to give a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the fifth anniversary of his speech outlining his two-state vision in June of 2002.
Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, writing in The Washington Post on Friday, backed the idea of a "'West Bank First' policy as Rice's best option," saying it holds the potential for a peace deal and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
"Palestinians in Gaza could compare their fate under Hamas's rule with the fate of their West Bank cousins under Abbas - which might then force Hamas to come to terms with Israel," he wrote.
But an Egyptian diplomatic official in Washington told The Jerusalem Post that such a bifurcation among the Palestinian entities would be a recipe for disaster.
"How can anyone think of somehow strangling Gaza... with 1.3 million Palestinians there, and think that that's going to lead to some sort of solution?" he asked. "The premise of that idea has not worked before and it's not going to work now."