- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Authority’s incoming prime minister said yesterday his Hamas-led government was ready to hold talks with international Middle East mediators, though he reiterated that Hamas would not cave in to economic pressures to soften its hard-line agenda.

The so-called Quartet of mediators — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — is demanding that Hamas disarm, recognize Israel and accept past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. Hamas has so far rejected these conditions.

“The government is ready for dialogue with the Quartet,” incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told parliament. “The European Union has provided a lot of aid to our people and supported our right for freedom. … We are interested in a strong relation with Europe.”

“But at the same time we expect the European Union to review some of its policies toward the conflict,” he added.

Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, said yesterday that words of reconciliation from Hamas — if not followed by actions — should be viewed warily.

Hamas formed a Cabinet after its overwhelming victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, sweeping the governing Fatah party from power. It is expected to be sworn in Thursday.

Western countries have threatened to cut off direct aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority after the Hamas Cabinet is sworn in if the militant group does not renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel has already cut off the monthly transfer of tens of millions of dollars in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian government.

The Palestinian Authority, which is heavily dependent on the tax transfers and foreign aid, has not yet been able to pay February salaries for its 140,000 employees. Without a large infusion of money, the government could plunge into a devastating financial crisis.

Mr. Haniyeh criticized the U.S. decision to cut off aid to the government, saying the United States should respect the election results.

“The U.S. administration, which calls for democracy, is invited to support the Palestinian choice, rather than imposing a siege, and it is required to fulfill its obligations and pledges for an independent state,” he said. “Those who believe that economic pressures will force our government into submission are wrong.”

In an effort to alleviate fears that aid to the government would end up being diverted to fund attacks on Israel, Mr. Haniyeh promised to create a transparent financial system so donors would be certain that their money was used for the intended purpose.

“All the money that will be provided to our people and the Palestinian Authority will go in the right destination,” he said. “Our government will provide all mechanisms for all donors to monitor the spending of the money and to be sure it will be spent the right way. Any state providing a penny, we have no problem for it to come and monitor the spending.”

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