Israeli officials will not meet with foreign diplomats who meet Hamas members of the new Palestinian Authority unity government during the same trip, senior government officials indicated on Tuesday. Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch declined to meet the deputy Norwegian Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen on Tuesday, a day after Johansen met in Gaza with PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Asked whether this was now Israel's official policy, senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office referred to the cabinet decision from April 11, 2006, following the establishment of the Hamas government, which they said remained in effect.
US may talk with non-Hamas ministers
According to that decision, "Foreign dignitaries who visit the area and meet with Hamas officials will not be received by Israeli officials for meetings." Nevertheless, "logistical problems" were the reason the Foreign Ministry gave the Norwegians for canceling the meeting. Johansen's spokeswoman, Gry Larsen, said the meeting scheduled at the Foreign Ministry had been called off, but did not give further details.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that "giving legitimacy and recognition to an extremist political personality or individual will only give legitimacy and recognition to that individual's extremist agenda. Hamas is a terrorist organization, not only under Israeli law, but also under EU, Canadian, Japanese and Australian law." Regev said that "giving legitimacy and recognition to the extremists will not in any way further the peace process." By contrast, neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister's Office would comment on a meeting Tuesday between PA Finance Minister Salaam Fayad and the US consul-general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles.
US officials have said in recent days that the US would continue to meet non-Hamas officials with whom it has met in the past, even if they were members of the new government. It was not clear, however, whether the US would invite these officials to Washington, or only meet them on visits here.
PA Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said that the Fayad-Walles meeting took place in Ramallah. Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, spokeswoman for the US consulate, would not confirm the meeting, saying that she did not give out information about Walles's schedule.
While the US will continue to meet with Fayad, neither it nor the EU has changed its policy regarding the PA government, a position that Jerusalem applauded.
The United States and the European Union announced Monday night in Washington that the economic embargo would remain in effect despite the formation of the PA unity government. The announcement came at a joint press conference in Washington following a meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU foreign policy chairman Javier Solana, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Regev responded by saying that "the international community is stating clearly that this Hamas led government has not met the three benchmarks, and as a result will not be given legitimacy and will not be worked with."
As an indication that neither the US or EU planned to lift its financial embargo of the PA, Ferrero-Waldner said that the EU would continue to funnel funds to the Palestinians using the temporary international mechanism, which bypasses the PA government, for another three months.
Rice, who is expected in Israel on Sunday, spoke against the clause in the new PA platform calling for the "right of resistance."
"I'm not going to try to interpret what the 'right of resistance' means, but I'll tell you, it doesn't sound very good to me," Rice said. "So I would put the question to the Palestinian government and to its prime minister: Do you mean the right of resistance by violence? And let's get an answer."
Olmert, meanwhile, discussed the situation on Tuesday with visiting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Olmert told Fico, whose country is an EU member and also currently on the UN Security Council, that Israel would not have any contact with the new PA government or any of its ministers.
AP contributed to this report.