Palestinians: Rice-Abbas talks 'difficult'

Sec. of state voices concerns over new PA gov't; Abbas: It will moderate Hamas.

Condi Rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Condi Rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority officials described Sunday's three-hour meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah as "difficult." They said Rice reiterated Washington's position that the proposed unity government meet the conditions of the Quartet for ending financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians in the aftermath of Hamas's rise to power: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing violence and abiding by previous agreements signed with Israel. The officials said Rice voiced opposition to the Mecca agreement because of its "vague" wording. "Rice made it clear that the US and the rest of the international community would boycott any government that does not meet these conditions," a senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "She also said the US administration was not happy with the national unity agreement that was reached between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca." The official quoted Abbas as telling Rice that his top priority was to prevent civil war in the PA territories and that he had no choice but to strike a deal with Hamas. "President Abbas appealed to Rice not to take a final position regarding the proposed unity government until the new coalition is formed," he said. "The president stressed that it would be a big mistake to reject the new government before it announces its political program." PA official Saeb Erekat, who participated in the meeting, said Abbas reassured Rice that the new Hamas-led unity government would not be in charge of the negotiations with Israel. "President Abbas emphasized during the talks that he alone will be responsible for the portfolio of negotiations with Israel," he said. According to Erekat, Abbas also stressed that his top priority at this stage is to prevent internal fighting and to restore law and order to PA-controlled areas. "These are very important issues for the Palestinians," Abbas reportedly told Rice. "The unity government is needed to prevent internal strife and end tensions between Fatah and Hamas." Erekat said it was inconceivable that the international community reject the unity government even before its formation. "The new government still hasn't been formed," he pointed out. "It also hasn't announced its political platform." Another top PA official expressed deep disappointment with the results of the Rice-Abbas talks. "It was a tough meeting," he said. "Rice actually reprimanded Abbas for signing the unity government deal with Hamas. The US has endorsed the Israeli position regarding the Mecca deal, and this is regrettable." PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accused the US and Israel of working toward derailing the Mecca agreement. Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, Haniyeh said Hamas will support Abbas in facing external pressure designed to thwart the unity deal. "We stand next to the president in the face of external pressure and attempts to foil the agreement," he said. "The US and Israel want the state of turmoil to continue in the Palestinian areas." Fatah legislator Muhammad Hourani described the US position regarding the Mecca agreement as "negative," saying the time has come for Washington to realize that the Palestinian issue is the core of the Middle East crisis. "The US has expressed its reservations regarding the Mecca agreement," he said. "But it would be better to wait until the new government is established."