Israel: Fayad's gov't must accept benchmarks

Livni makes first formal contact with Fayad.

Salam Fayad 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Salam Fayad 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
After a week of rushing headlong to fully embrace Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas following the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Israel began stepping back a bit on Wednesday. Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Jerusalem wanted to hear a formal announcement from the new Palestinian Authority government saying it accepted the Quartet's three benchmarks before transferring frozen tax revenues to the PA. The cabinet is expected to take up the issue of releasing the funds, believed to be more than a half billion dollars, at its upcoming meeting on Sunday. The Quartet's three conditions are the recognition of Israel, the renouncement of terrorism, and the acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert returned from Washington Wednesday afternoon, with his advisers saying that a meeting with Abbas in Jericho was possible as early as next week. There was also some talk that Olmert and Abbas would be joined at this meeting by Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Olmert and Abbas were scheduled to meet two weeks ago, but Abbas called off that meeting at the last moment. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office, however, warned that Israel and the West may "be crushing" Abbas with their enthusiastic embrace. What is needed now, one official said, was to give Abbas some time to see how things on the ground develop. The official said this logic had something to do with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision to postpone for the second time in as many months a visit to the region, which was originally scheduled to take place immediately before a meeting of the Quartet in Cairo on June 26. Rather than taking place in Cairo, this Quartet meeting - to be held at the level of foreign ministers - is now expected to take place in New York. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni phoned new PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad on Wednesday, marking the first formal contact between Israel and the new PA government. The brief conversation, described by diplomatic officials as a "courtesy call," took place while Olmert was en route from the US, but Foreign Ministry officials said Olmert was briefed about the content of the conversation soon after he landed. "The establishment of the new government makes progress possible on the diplomatic process and a number of issues that were frozen during the (now defunct Hamas-Fatah) unity government," Livni said. Livni has had extensive contacts with Fayad in the past, both when he was and was not inside the PA government.