Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week rebuffed Qatari efforts to "mediate" with Hamas, saying Israel will have nothing to do with the organization until it changes its ways.
The Qatari overture came Thursday evening, when Livni was in the US. The Qatari officials who contacted her discussed brokering a long-term hudna
(cease-fire) between Hamas and Israel.
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According to Israeli officials, Livni said there would be "no middle ground with Hamas," and that the organization needed to accept the three conditions placed on it by Israel and the international community: disarm and disavow terrorism, recognize Israel and accept all the agreements with it.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet at its weekly meeting Sunday that "the rules of the game will change" as soon as the Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council is sworn in.
The new PLC is expected to be sworn in on Saturday.
Olmert's comments came in the context of explaining his decision last week to transfer some NIS 250 million in tax and custom revenue to the Palestinian Authority. He took a jab at Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who criticized him for approving the transfers, saying that when Netanyahu was finance minister the funds were transferred sometimes just a day or two after a suicide attack.
Olmert said once the new government was sworn in, the PA would then effectively become a Hamas government. He said from Israel's perspective "it is unimportant if it is a government of technocrats or the ministers are formal Hamas members."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who also briefed the cabinet, said once the council was sworn in, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was expected to charge Hamas with forming a government. He said this would begin the "countdown" toward the establishment of a new government and the possibility that Abbas would transfer responsibility for some of the PA security services to Hamas.
Mofaz noted that in this case, Hamas would be in charge of fulfilling the PA's commitment to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures and move toward implementing the road map, something extremely unlikely since, Hamas officials have said they have no intention of recognizing Israel or of "abandoning the resistance."
Olmert termed Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent invitation of Hamas to Moscow for talks a mistake, even though the Russians said they were not backpedaling from the three conditions the international community has placed on Hamas.
He also said French President Jacques Chirac assured him during a phone conversation last week that France supported Israel's position on this matter. This despite a French Foreign Ministry spokesman's comment Saturday showing understanding for Putin's initiative.
Mofaz said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told him at a NATO meeting over the weekend that Putin's invitation was meant to pressure Hamas through direct dialogue, not through public statements. He said Israel's position on the matter was made very clear.
Livni briefed the cabinet on her talks in Washington and at the UN last week. She said she relayed three key messages in her meetings:
It did not matter whether Hamas was democratically elected or not, or whether people voted for Hamas because they were sick of PA corruption and not because of Hamas's jihad ideology. What mattered was the bottom line, she said, which was that Hamas was a terrorist organization and that a government it led would be a terrorist government.
Abbas said before the elections the vote was needed to give him the legitimacy necessary to dismantle the terrorist organizations and put the PA security apparatus under one authority. Livni said she called on the US and the UN to hold him to this pledge.
Hamas would try to work on two tracks: the first creating a technocratic government, and the second retaining its military wing with the hope that in this way it would be able to gain international legitimacy.