FM works to ensure unity against Hamas

Livni on whirlwind tour of Europe: The ball Hamas' court right now.

livni sits 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
livni sits 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni took Israel's attempt to build an international wall against Hamas on the road Wednesday, warning European leaders against providing funds to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government, stressing that it remained a terrorist threat. Livni, on a two-day tour to Vienna, Paris and London, told Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik that terrorist groups cannot gain legitimacy simply because they win an election, and praised the Quartet for placing preconditions on what Hamas needed to do before gaining international legitimacy and receiving international funds. Livni reiterated that Israel's position was that it did not want to "punish" the Palestinian population for the Hamas victory, and that it would not oppose international aid to humanitarian organizations provided there was supervision that the money did not end up in the wrong hands. "If you give money to a terrorist organization it will go in wrong directions. Nobody wants to give money to a terrorist organization," Livni said at a press conference with Plassnik. Austria currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. Still, Livni did not rule out contacts with Hamas if it did give up violence and accepted previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. "I never say never," Livni said. "The ball is ... in their court right now." The EU announced Monday it would provide $143 million in emergency assistance to the caretaker Palestinian government aimed at preventing its financial collapse, but has so far kept silent on what it would do once Hamas takes office. Recently there have been some voices raised in the Quartet, which includes the US, EU, Russia and UN, saying that even once Hamas sets up the government, it should be given additional time to make clear its positions before being cut off. Plassnik said the EU's decision to provide emergency assistance was essential to cover basic needs. "We are fully aware of the need to help improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people," Plassnik said at a news conference with Livni. The Quartet principals are scheduled to hold a conference call on Thursday to discuss the fiscal situation inside the PA. Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn warned last week of dire consequences if the international funding was cut off. He said that a failure by the PA to pay salaries "may have wide-ranging consequences not only for the Palestinian economy but also for security and stability for both the Palestinians and the Israelis," His pessimistic assessment was echoed Tuesday at the UN Security Council, when the UN's Mideast envoy Alvaro de Soto said that "We should be alert to the danger that cutting off assistance prior to the formation of a new government might be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world as a punishment for the way the Palestinians voted in January." According to Livni's office, Plassnik said that terror and violence are not compatible with democratic principles, and that the international community would stick to their demands that the PA government recognize Israel, disavow and stop terrorism, and accept all previous agreements with Israel. Livni, meanwhile, again clarified in Vienna her comments that raised eyebrows Monday that once Hamas formed the government Abbas would no longer be relevant. Those comments came against a background of voices in Europe saying that international aid should be funneled directly to Hamas, to give him leverage against Hamas. "It is not for me to say who is relevant," Livni said. "It is more what he will do, not only what he will say that will make him more or less relevant to the future of the two peoples, Israel and the Palestinians." Following her meeting with Plassnik and with Austria's chancellor and president Wednesday afternoon, Livni flew to Paris for talks with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. On Thursday, her tour of Europe was expected to take her to London for talks with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. (AP contributed to this report)