Israel sure Quartet wall won't crumble

Norway resumes ties; France invites Hamas minister; US, Germany, UK cool.

Hamas Fatah 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas Fatah 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While Norway has declared it will renew all ties with the Palestinian Authority and France has already invited the new PA foreign minister to visit, Israeli officials expressed satisfaction that the rest of Europe has not made a headstrong rush into the arms of the new government, but is still adopting a wait-and-see attitude. This attitude was reflected in a statement issued Saturday night by Germany, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. While welcoming the formation of the new government, the statement read, "The presidency of the EU recalls the readiness of the EU to work with and to resume its assistance to a legitimate Palestinian government adopting a platform reflecting the Quartet principles. The EU will carefully assess the platform and actions of the new government and its ministers." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni busily worked the phones over the weekend, speaking to Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana. Her central message was that the new Palestinian cabinet did not accept the three benchmarks - recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous agreements - and that the PA government should be seen as "a whole unit." One of Israel's central concerns is that the EU will begin having official contacts with non-Hamas ministers, something that could then lead to the legitimization of the whole government. "There is no point in saying that it is okay to transfer funds to [new PA Finance Minister Salaam] Fayad, because that money will obviously then find its way into ministries controlled by Hamas," one senior Israeli diplomatic official said. A senior Foreign Ministry official said that while there were reports that the US would hold unofficial contacts with Fayad, the ministry checked into this and found that this would not be the case. Another senior Israeli official said Jerusalem was confident that the US, German and Britain would continue to boycott the new PA government until the three conditions were accepted. The official said there was no need to lobby the US on this issue, since Jerusalem and Washington were on the "same page" on this issue. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Friday that the US would "reserve any comment" about the national unity government until it assess the new government's platform, its composition, and its actions "with respect to the foundational principles for peace that the Quartet outlined." He also encouraged other countries to evaluate their position vis- -vis the government in light of whether or not it met these principles. "Once the national unity government is formed and we have an idea of the platform and what actions that they're going to take, then obviously there's going to have to be a discussion among the Quartet in formulating a Quartet response," McCormack said. The next Quartet meeting is scheduled for early April in Cairo. McCormack said it was clear that the different members of the Quartet - which in addition to the US comprises Russia, the EU and the UN - "bring to the table different perspectives." But, he said, the Quartet has been able to "cohere around those set of principles," and he said this has been an "important tool in trying to encourage Hamas and a Hamas-led government to change its behavior. "That has not happened to date, but it has highlighted the central contradictions within the Palestinian political process that need to be addressed if the Palestinian people want to realize a state. Because on the current pathway with a Hamas-led government that does not adhere to those principles, they're not going to realize a state; that's the plain and simple fact. They are not going to realize a two-state solution." Israeli officials, meanwhile, reiterated what they said when the formation of the unity government was announced last week: that it does not meet the Quartet's benchmarks, and that Israel would have nothing to do with it, or with any of the ministers in its government. But as one senior government official admitted, "Not everything is clear cut and easy. It is difficult for us when the good guys have now gone over to the side of the bad guys, and are trying to convince the rest of the world that they are still the good guys." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said that not only did the new PA government not accept the three principles, but that with regard to the demand for the PA to renounce terrorism, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh "openly talked about the Palestinians right of resistance until the end of occupation." Israel will not "recognize or deal with the new unity government, and expects the international community to stand strong in its demand that the new government accept the three principles," she said. As to the Palestinian claim that the new government's acceptance of previous agreements was an implicit recognition of Israel's right to exist, a senior diplomatic official said that if the recognition was indeed implied, then why not just come out and say it. The answer, he said, "is because they are not interested in recognizing Israel publicly." At the same time, the official acknowledged that it was significant that the new government's platform called for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines - a PLO position - and did not advocate Hamas's position of Islamic rule over all of Israel. According to this official, Israel was aware of some initiatives inside the EU, led by Spain and Ireland, to lift the boycott on the PA and to resume the flow of money to PA coffers. Although the Europeans gave more money to the Palestinians in 2006 than they did in 2005, it went for humanitarian purposes and did not fill the PA treasury. EU officials began talking about its policy toward the new government at a technical level in Brussels on Friday. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman, at a daily briefing in Paris on Friday, said the issue would be discussed further at an informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Germany right after the Riyadh Arab League summit on March 29. While the French Foreign Ministry invited new PA Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr to Paris, the spokesmen said that the French were "not forgetting" that "the Palestinian authorities must do everything possible to stop all forms of violence against Israel and also the importance we attach to Gilad Schalit's release." As to why the French already invited Abu Amr, the spokesman said, "On the French side we wanted to sort of show the way. We'd always said that if this government were formed, it was important to send a signal of encouragement very quickly." The spokesman stressed that Abu Amr was an "independent," and not affiliated with Hamas. The spokesman also said that France was not "renouncing the Quartet principles. You must understand that we are trying to break out of an all black, all white interpretation in this. We want to see things moving. We want to encourage this momentum, and to send certain signals." Norway, however, has taken a black and white approach. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr St re, in a statement posted on the Norwegian Foreign Ministry's Web site, said the new PA government "is taking important steps toward complying with the international community's demands. Norway will thus on this basis re-establish political and economic relations with the Palestinian government." St re said Norway "expects the Palestinian authorities to respect basic international standards as regards compliance with previously concluded agreements, renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel's right to exist. It is now important that the new government in practice continues reconciliation efforts among the Palestinians and implements political and economic reforms." According to the statement, "Norway will deal with members of the new Palestinian government as representatives of a broad and representative unity government. Norway upholds its demands on Hamas as an organization." One Israeli diplomatic official said Norway's position was "expected," and pointed out that Norway was not a member of the EU. Despite assessments in Jerusalem that there were calls for London to establish contacts with non-Hamas members of the new PA government inside the British foreign policy bureaucracy, one Israeli diplomat said that this was not the policy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair or of Foreign Secretary Beckett. Indeed, a wait-and-see attitude was reflected in a statement Beckett issued on Saturday night. "We will judge the government by its platform and actions and respond accordingly," the statement read. "As Britain has made clear, we have always been willing to work with a government based on the Quartet principles."