Reviving the idea of unilateral withdrawal is one of the options being considered inside the Prime Minister's Office in the wake of the formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government whose platform Israel views as intransigent, senior government officials said on Thursday. The officials said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not believe that Israel can afford to remain at a diplomatic standstill, and that if there were no Palestinian government with whom to negotiate a two-state solution, Israel might once more begin drawing borders on its own. The officials' comments came as Jerusalem made clear it would not deal with the new coalition following the publication of the new PA government's guidelines.
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"We won't recognize or deal with the new Palestinian government until it complies with the Quartet's three principles," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
"We won't even deal with or recognize members of the government who we have dealt with in the past," she said.
According to government officials, Olmert has always said he preferred a negotiated settlement, but that if this were not possible, then Israel would act unilaterally. The officials said that Olmert did not say after the war in Lebanon that his realignment plan was shelved, only that the Israeli public "did not have an appetite for it" at the time.
Asked if the Prime Minister's Office feels that the Israeli public now has regained an appetite for unilateral moves, one official asked, "Does the public have the stomach to stay forever in Judea and Samaria? Is that a better option?"
According to sources in the PMO, Israel will continue to speak with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, but that these talks would focus on day-to-day and humanitarian issues - what one official called "small change" - not about fundamental issues.
"We can't talk substance with Abbas, because there is a real question now about whom he represents," one source said. He added, however, that Israel was interested in keeping the lines of communication with him open.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Olmert did not hit the phones Thursday and canvass world leaders to remain steadfast behind the Quartets' three principles - that the new PA government must recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements - because Israel's position on this has been consistent and is well known.
Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry began a campaign on Thursday to keep the world from recognizing the new government.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, "The Palestinian government platform shows clearly that it refuses to accept the three benchmarks of the international community. Accordingly, Israel will not deal with this government and we call upon the international community to be steadfast behind its own principles and not to give recognition to this government."
Regev said that not only was there no positive momentum in the platform, there was "a clear regression in the language on a number of points."
For instance, he said that on the issue of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the platform absolved itself of any responsibility; on the issue of terrorism, the platform doesn't even do something that the so-called Prisoners' Document did a few months back - distinguish between terrorism inside Israel and in the West Bank; and regarding negotiations, Hamas has given itself a veto over Abbas's right to negotiate.
"For all these reasons," Regev said, "when you look at the text you see a regression in the Palestinian position."
Regev said the political platform was now the strongest weapon in Israel's diplomatic arsenal, adding: "We believe that when we go through the document with the Quartet, they will see clearly that this is not a positive development, and that it would be serious mistake to reinforce it."