Israel rejects Palestinian unity government

March 16, 2007|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israel declared yesterday that it would not deal with the newly named Palestinian government, saying the proposed coalition showed no sign of recognizing the Jewish state or meeting other international conditions for ending an aid embargo.

Israeli officials said the draft platform for the new government, under which the radical Islamist group Hamas will share power with rival Fatah, appeared to maintain the hard-line stance of the current government, which has been run solely by Hamas.

"Unfortunately, the new government refuses to accept the three international benchmarks. It refuses to accept Israel's right to exist, it refuses to renounce terrorism and violence, and it refuses to accept the signed agreements in the Middle East peace process," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "Accordingly, Israel will not deal with this new government."

Regev said the West should maintain its aid boycott unless the Palestinian government met the conditions, which were set down by the West last year after Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections.

The Israeli reaction came as Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh formally presented Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with the lineup of Cabinet ministers who will serve under a power-sharing arrangement forged by the two factions last month in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The proposed Cabinet - with 10 Hamas ministers and six from Fatah, plus nine others who are independent or represent smaller factions - is to be endorsed tomorrow by the Palestinian parliament. Haniyeh is also to lay out the coalition government's proposed political program then.

A draft of the platform posted on a Hamas Web site said the government would "respect" past agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, wording that falls short of the international conditions. Israel also objects to wording defending the Palestinians' right to resistance, which it considers an endorsement of violence, and to other provisions it says undercut prospects for peace.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert labeled the unity deal "a leap backward."

Leaders of Hamas and Fatah agreed to share power in hopes of halting months of deadly factional clashes and of ending the Western aid embargo, which has deprived the Palestinian Authority treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars to pay salaries and other expenses.

The new government faces towering challenges, including lingering animosities between the two factions and restoring law and order under a new interior minister, Hani Kawasmi, a virtual unknown who does not belong to either faction but is close to Hamas.

Success also will hinge largely on whether donors resume desperately needed assistance.

"It depends on whether the international community is going to deal with it," said Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank. "Are they going to deal with it? Are they going to recognize it?"

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday that the Bush administration would withhold judgment until the final composition of the government and its political programs were clear.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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