JERUSALEM — Israel’s foreign minister said yesterday that no progress can be made on a U.S.-backed peace plan unless the Palestinian Authority decides to dismantle the violent Hamas group.
Silvan Shalom made the comment as Palestinians continued efforts to instead win a Hamas pledge to stop its attack, and ahead of a meeting of European, U.S. and U.N. mediators to discuss ways of salvaging the “road map” peace plan.
President Bush could dispatch National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — whom he has called his “personal representative” to the Mideast peace process — to the region as early as next week, administration officials said.
The visit would be the latest in a series of high-level U.S. efforts to bolster the road map, which Mr. Bush launched at a June 4 Mideast summit. The plan, a blueprint for ending 33 months of violence and establishing a Palestinian state by 2005, has been hobbled by deadly bombings, shootings and missile strikes.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who is holding truce talks with Hamas. U.S. envoy John Wolf has also been shuttling between the two sides.
Today, Mr. Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — the so-called quartet of Mideast mediators who drafted the road map — were scheduled to meet in Jordan to discuss ways of rescuing the plan.
A total of 42 Palestinians — four of them assailants — and 27 Israelis have been killed in escalating violence since the plan was proposed.
The casualties included a Palestinian man who died yesterday of injuries sustained in an Israeli missile strike that killed a Hamas activist last week.
Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian militant yesterday in the West Bank city of Hebron, witnesses said. Media reports identified the man as Abdullah Kawasme, the senior Hamas leader in the area.
Mr. Shalom said Mr. Abbas has failed to make a “strategic decision” to crack down on the Hamas terror network, which in its latest attack claimed responsibility for killing a motorist and wounding three passengers — all Americans — in a West Bank shooting Friday.
Mr. Shalom said he told Mr. Powell on Friday that “a cease-fire, which in itself is a ticking bomb, cannot be long-term.”
“We cannot live in a situation in which the Palestinian extremists decide when this ticking bomb turns into a real bomb,” he said.
Mr. Abbas has said from the outset that he does not have enough men under arms to force Hamas to disarm and has warned that a crackdown would trigger a civil war.
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said yesterday that a decision from the militant groups on whether to end attacks against Israelis could come within two days. “We discussed all the issues, and we hope that all the factions will respond as soon as possible,” he said.
Hamas, which is coming under intense Arab and European pressure as well, said it had given no such undertaking.
“We did not say that we will respond within 24 hours or 48 hours,” said Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who survived an Israeli missile strike last week. “Everything depends on when we are going to finish our consultations within the movement, and after that, we will release our final decision.”
Mr. Powell sided with Israel on Friday in demanding that Mr. Abbas take decisive steps against Hamas, which he referred to as an “enemy of peace.”
Israel has systematically targeted Palestinian security forces as a message to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that it holds him ultimately responsible for attacks on Israelis, even those carried out by Hamas and other opposition groups.
Palestinians say these attacks largely destroyed their security services, rendering Israel’s current demands of them impossible.