- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

12:17 p.m.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A U.S. diplomat met today with the Palestinian finance minister, a Palestinian official said, in the first American contact with the new coalition government and a sign of a break in policy between Israel and its closest ally.

Israel has said it will not have contact with any member of the new Hamas-Fatah coalition. The United States, however, has indicated it would maintain contact with moderates such Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, met with Mr. Fayyad in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti said.

“This is part of the ordinary meetings that Palestinian ministers are conducting with the international community,” Mr. Barghouti said.

Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate, declined to confirm that the meeting had taken place. An Israeli official said the government was waiting for official U.S. comment before responding.

The Palestinian coalition’s political platform, announced Saturday, stops short of meeting the terms of international donors and would-be peacemakers that Palestinian leaders renounce violence, accept Israel’s right to exist and abide by previous agreements the Palestinians made with Israel and others.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry canceled a planned meeting today with Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen after he met with Palestinian government leaders from the Islamic Hamas group, Norwegian and Israeli officials said.

Mr. Johansen met Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and other government officials yesterday, becoming the first high-ranking Western official to visit leaders of the violent Islamic movement, which has killed more than 200 Israelis in dozens of suicide bombing attacks.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to confirm that a meeting had been scheduled with the Norwegian but said that no visit would take place, citing a Cabinet decision that followed Hamas’ January 2006 election victory.

“International dignitaries who meet with Hamas officials will not receive meetings with Israeli officials,” Mr. Regev said.

In an effort to break the embargo, Hamas on Saturday joined with the more pragmatic Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a coalition government led by Mr. Haniyeh but with Fatah ministers who accept the conditions laid down by the Quartet of international peacemakers — the United States, United Nations, Russia and European Union.

Norway, a member of the United Nations but not of the European Union, recognized the new government the day it was sworn in, raising Israeli hackles.

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