Israeli plan irks Hamas

Restrictions aimed at Palestinians

February 18, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM --The man many expect to become the new Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya of the radical Islamic group Hamas, criticized yesterday Israeli proposals to restrict the movement of money, people and goods to and from the Palestinian territories.

"These Israeli decisions are part of the policy of repression, terrorism and collective punishment against our people," Haniya said after leaving Friday prayers in Gaza City. "Hamas reflects the choice of our people, who will not be broken by a few measures taken by the Israeli occupiers."

A new, Hamas-dominated Parliament will be sworn in today at simultaneous video-conferenced sessions in Gaza and the West Bank, and afterward, Israeli officials say, relations with the Palestinians will change.

The Israeli Cabinet, led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, decided to wait until after the swearing-in to approve measures aimed at isolating and destabilizing a Hamas government, measures coordinated with the United States, officials of both countries say.

The effort is designed to force Hamas to satisfy the three conditions imposed by Israel and the international community: to recognize Israel's right to exist in perpetuity, to forswear violence and to accept the validity of previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements, which are based on the concept of a two-state solution as the foundation stone for a peace treaty.

Otherwise, Hamas will face international isolation and a form of economic siege, with a sharp cut in direct budget support needed to pay 140,000 Palestinian workers, even as most so-called humanitarian aid - through the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations - continues at lower levels. All American and European aid projects are under review, officials say.

Dov Weissglas, an adviser to the prime minister, was quoted by Israeli news media as telling an official meeting: "It's like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight but not to starve to death."

Washington and the European Union want to preserve their ties to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and consider him the head of an interim government until a new prime minister, presumably Haniya, can form a new government.

Israel, however, is in the midst of an election campaign. A cutoff as of today means that the Cabinet would not have to approve the payment of February's customs and taxes to the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli Cabinet will meet as usual tomorrow and is expected to approve sanctions, drawn up by the security services and the Defense Ministry.

The recommendations include a cutoff of customs and tax receipts collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, which amounts to $50 million a month; a separation of the West Bank and Gaza, with the closing of the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel to all Palestinians without a permit or during a humanitarian emergency; the closing of other crossings for goods, fuel, water and humanitarian aid; and a canceling of the permits Israel granted in principle to build a seaport in Gaza.

Under American pressure, however, Israel will not immediately cancel work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel, though the numbers are small compared with what they were before the first intifada. Nor will Israel cut off water, fuel or electricity supplies to the Palestinian Authority but will continue to deduct the costs from the tax receipts held in escrow.

Israel is ordering a review of all nongovernmental organizations that work with the Palestinians, not including United Nations or government agencies, to see whether their work can be said to benefit a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority, and it is looking into its ability to cut off funds transfers from abroad, in particular from the Arab world, that Hamas might want to use to make up for the loss of tax and customs revenue.

The Israeli decisions could effectively break the customs arrangements negotiated as part of the Oslo accords, which Hamas rejects. Now, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel are considered part of one customs unit, and goods can travel freely, subject to security checks, within that unit.

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