- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

JERUSALEM — President Bush has told Israel his administration will not cooperate with any Palestinian unity government that fails to meet the three demands of the international community, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday.

The comment goes beyond the “wait and see” policy adopted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and further clouds prospects for her trilateral peace talks today in Jerusalem with Mr. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Olmert told his Cabinet at the start of its weekly meeting yesterday that he and Mr. Bush had spoken by telephone about the efforts of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah to form a new ruling coalition.

“A Palestinian government that won’t accept the Quartet conditions won’t receive recognition and cooperation,” Mr. Olmert said. “The American and Israeli positions are totally identical on this issue.”

The Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — has demanded that the Palestinian administration recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor past Palestinian agreements. During talks on a new government in Saudi Arabia last week, Hamas agreed only to honor past commitments.

Mr. Bush’s reported comment, which was not announced by the White House, appeared to go beyond Miss Rice’s repeated statements that the United States — while reiterating the three demands — would withhold judgment until the Palestinian government is formed.

She repeated that position in Jerusalem yesterday and said the United States will continue to work with Mr. Abbas in any case, calling him “an important figure” in efforts for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The Quartet principles have to be respected, and we have to wait and see what this government actually says about and does about the Quartet principles,” she said after a day of preliminary meetings with Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas.

And yet, she told a group of reporters traveling with her, “I haven’t seen anything to date to suggest that this is a government that is going to meet those Quartet principles.”

On her 11th visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories as secretary of state, Miss Rice had hoped to infuse new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by focusing on a political “horizon” for a peace agreement.

Miss Rice traveled yesterday to Mr. Abbas’ presidential compound in Ramallah, where she held three hours of talks with the Palestinian leader. Mr. Abbas reportedly appealed for Miss Rice to give the new unity government a chance before making a decision on whether to continue the boycott.

Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat expressed little hope that the United States would relax its insistence on the three conditions. “To be fair, the American position has been very consistent,” he said.

Miss Rice sought to lower expectations for a breakthrough in the talks today, which will give the sides a chance to discuss the underlying principles of a two-state settlement — what the sides refer to as that political “horizon.”

“I expect to have conversations that are at a pace to allow real discussions and not to try to drive to some outcome,” she said. “It’s like asking people to run at this point, and somebody is going to fall down.”

Miss Rice said she expected the sides will have the opportunity to put “whatever issues they want” on the table for a “candid” discussion.

It had been hoped that the peace process could be jump-started by shifting the focus to final solutions rather than the step-by-step approach of the moribund “road map” peace plan, which requires the Palestinians to disarm militant groups and the Israelis to ease restrictions on the Palestinian population.

But Israeli press reports say Mr. Olmert will not agree to discuss the central elements — borders, control over Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — of any final agreement.

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