Olmert to Ban: Rebuild Gaza not Hamas

Olmert tells UN chief that Hamas mustn't be allowed to gain legitimacy from reconstruction process.

survey.gaza.war.2009.results (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The reconstruction of the Gaza Strip must not lead to the reconstruction of Hamas, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday. Ban met Olmert just prior to Ban's being the first international leader to visit Gaza since Hamas took control of the area in 2007. Olmert, according to his office, said that the reconstruction efforts should be coordinated by the UN, along with international organizations, and with the active cooperation of Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and other moderate Arab countries. Reflecting growing concern in Jerusalem, Olmert said that Hamas must not be allowed to draw any legitimacy whatsoever from the reconstruction process since it was responsible for the devastation in the Gaza Strip. Olmert indicated to Ban that Israel was eager to continue with the diplomatic process, saying that "the humanitarian assistance to, and the reconstruction of, the Gaza Strip were insufficient to resolve existing problem in the Strip" and that "only the continuation of the diplomatic processes in the region and a stable peace, now, can resolve the region's problems." In this vein, he responded to Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's comments Monday about the Arab peace initiative, saying "Israel has been, and still is, prepared to accept the Arab initiative as a framework for the continued conduct of peace negotiations, first and foremost with the Palestinian Authority and with other Arab states as well." Abdullah, speaking at the Arab economic summit in Kuwait on Monday, said, "Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always stay open, and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table." Last week Syrian President Bashar Assad said that the initiative was no longer relevant. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, said that Israel must put forth a diplomatic initiative, or face isolation. "We should say we support two states for two peoples, but not unconditionally," Livni said, at a speech at the Administrative College in Rishon Lezion. Livni, who is to travel to Brussels Wednesday for a meeting with EU foreign ministers, said Israel would only enjoy international support for its war on terrorism if it had a diplomatic process on the table. Livni said Israel made the decision to launch Operation Cast Lead only after "showing restraint and building up international understanding, including in the Arab world." She said that she heard every day from various foreign ministers, including "some whom we don't have relations with," that Israel "cannot let Hamas win." Livni also said that there was now an understanding in the international community "that smuggling arms is like shooting, that smuggling weapons is a threat to Israel and we have a right to defend ourselves." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.