- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Israel yesterday ruled out any peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas if his Fatah faction joins Hamas in a new Cabinet, in spite of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s appeal for continued talks with Mr. Abbas as the legitimate Palestinian leader.

A day after Miss Rice’s inconclusive meeting in Jerusalem with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mr. Olmert’s aides said future contacts would be limited to daily issues such as improving living conditions for the Palestinians and ending attacks against Israel.

“We are not talking about negotiations on final-status issues,” said Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin.

The United States and Israel both have said they will not deal with the proposed unity government unless it meets three international demands — that it renounce violence, recognize Israel and honor past Palestinian commitments.

“The agreements between Hamas and Abu Mazen disappoint all who supported separating the extremists from the moderates and creating an alternative government in the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said yesterday, using Mr. Abbas’ nickname.

Although Miss Rice agreed that a government that does not recognize Israel cannot be part of any peace negotiations leading to a two-state solution, she has repeatedly said that Mr. Abbas is the only Palestinian leader worth talking to.

“He heads [the Palestinian Authority] with his own authority and his own legitimacy, having been elected to that position on the basis of principles that he went to the Palestinian people on when he was elected in 2005,” the secretary said on Monday.

“He is the chairman of the [Palestine Liberation Organization] and discussions, negotiations, whatever, work with Israel, is in the hands of the chairman of the PLO,” she said.

Miss Rice also said Mr. Abbas had assured her in several meetings that he is committed to the three international demands, which have been endorsed by the Quartet — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

But with a Hamas majority in both the parliament and the Cabinet, Mr. Abbas cannot deliver when it comes to final-status issues, said David Schenker, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We shouldn’t abandon him, because for the most part he continues to say the right things,” Mr. Schenker said of Mr. Abbas. “But it’s getting harder to deal with him.”

Mr. Schenker said it is “impossible to talk about a political horizon,” the term U.S. and Israeli officials have been using for the past couple of months, given the Fatah-Hamas agreement, which was reached on Feb. 8 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

“That agreement threw a ratchet in U.S. policy,” he said. “There were not many concessions from Hamas.”

The deal ended a cycle of factional violence in the Palestinian territories that left dozens dead and many more wounded.

“We told Israel that this agreement was made to protect the unity of the Palestinian people and its national interests,” Mr. Abbas was quoted as saying by Jordan’s official Petra news agency. “The agreement is an expression of support for Palestinian interests, but Israel may have misunderstood it.”

He also said that his Monday meeting with Mr. Olmert and Miss Rice had been “tense and difficult.”

Miss Rice met with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman yesterday before flying to Berlin for a Quartet meeting today.

Mr. Abbas also headed to Germany, Britain and France to lobby for the release of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian government, which has been frozen since Hamas came to power just over a year ago.

In Amman, Miss Rice also met with security and intelligence chiefs from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to discuss what can be done to get Hamas to accept the Quartet principles.

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