Abbas and Olmert talk, but won't meet

The Quartet issues statement articulating disappointment with PA developments.

abbas closeup 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
abbas closeup 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas phoned Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday to congratulate him on his election victory, but after the conversation there was no announcement of any plans for a meeting. According to a statement issued by Olmert's office, Abbas, currently on a trip to South Africa, said he hoped that Olmert would succeed in forming a coalition as soon as possible. Abbas also placed a congratulatory call to Shimon Peres. Olmert said before the elections that he would not meet Abbas after the elections. He said earlier in the month that the PA was "one authority," and that the minute the dominant force in the PA was Hamas, there was "no reason" to meet Abbas. Nevertheless, in his acceptance speech Tuesday night Olmert addressed Abbas directly, calling on the Palestinians to compromise on their dreams, as Israelis have done on theirs, and negotiate. This was, however, widely interpreted more as a general statement of intent than as a programmatic outline. Olmert was scheduled Thursday to hold his first diplomatic talks since Tuesday's election, meeting with visiting US envoys Elliott Abrams and David Welch. Welch and Abrams also met with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz who discussed the issue of the Gaza crossings. "Israel wants to keep them open, but not at the cost of risking the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians," Mofaz said. "We have no intention of hurting the Palestinian population, but are not willing to put our people's lives at risk." Mofaz said that the Palestinian refusal to open the crossing at Kerem Shalom, insisting instead on opening the Karni crossing, stemmed from the "personal motives" of senior PA officials who stood to lose money if Karni was not used. Welch and Abrams also met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and according to a statement released from her office the discussions centered on cutting ties with the new Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, the three also concluded the need to continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinians through other channels. The US State Department announced after the Hamas government was sworn in Wednesday that all diplomatic contacts with the Palestinian ministries were being cut off. Canada also announced that it was suspending aid to the PA and would have no contact with the Hamas government. The Quartet, meanwhile, issued a statement Thursday that articulated disappointment with the developments in the PA, but gave no clear guidelines to donor countries to the PA on what they should do next. In the statement, the Quartet, comprised of the US, EU, Russia and the UN, called again on the new Palestinian government to "commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map." These were the benchmarks for international legitimacy that the Quartet spelled out on January 30, soon after the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. Thursday's statement, an outgrowth of a telephone call held earlier in the week between the Quartet principals, welcomed Abbas's call for the new government to commit to a platform of peace, but "noted with grave concern that the new government has not committed to the principles spelled out on January 30." The Quartet said that future assistance to the PA government would be reviewed by donors against the Palestinian government's commitment to the international benchmarks, and that "the Quartet concurred that there inevitably will be an effect on direct assistance to that government and its ministries." At the same time, the Quartet encouraged continued humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, and in a message to Israel noted the "importance of improved movement and access." Western diplomatic officials said that while a clear declaration of principle, this statement was short on details, leaving donors - with the exception of the US and Canada whose policies are now clear - without firm guidelines on how they should now proceed with the PA. One official said that a meeting of representatives of the UN, World Bank and various governmental agencies met Thursday in Jerusalem, and "nobody knew how they were now supposed to work." Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Israel welcomed the Quartet statement, saying that this statement, taken together with previous statements made by the US and Canada, make it clear that "the international community cannot continue with business as usual in its relationships with the PA now that an extremist terrorist organization has formally taken over the PA government." Regev said that the "stubborn and extreme positions" of Hamas had created a situation where the PA "will not be considered a legitimate interlocutor by the international community and will become a pariah regime. That doesn't serve the interest of the Palestinian people, nor the interests of Israel or the interests of peace. The Palestinian leadership has no one but themselves to blame for this occurrence." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report