Monday, January 30, 2006

Quartet gives Hamas time

Daily Telegraph:

The militant Palestinian group Hamas has won time from a wary European Union, Russia and the United States to wipe the blood off its hands, renounce violence and recognise Israel's right to exist before it forms the next Palestinian government.

Meeting in London in the wake of Hamas's stunning victory in last week's Palestinian elections, the diplomatic Quartet on Middle East peace – which also includes the United Nations – pledged to keep money flowing into Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas's interim caretaker administration.

"We do believe that Abu Mazen (Abbas) needs to be supported," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, ensuring that funds would be available to pay for Palestinian police officers and civil servants.

But the Quartet warned that the Palestinians' critical lifeline of foreign aid could be lost in the longer term unless Hamas – perpetrator of deadly suicide bomb attacks on Israelis – abandoned violence, recognises Israel and embraces the diplomatic "roadmap" to peace.
That blueprint to peace envisions an independent Palestinian nation living side by side with the Jewish state.

The Hamas movement swiftly rejected the quartet's demands which the radical group said served only Israel's interests.

"The conditions posed by the quartet constitute pressure which serves the interests of Israel and not the Palestinian people," Hamas MP and spokesman Mosheer al-Masri said.

The quartet, in a late-night statement said they believed "that the Palestinian people have the right to expect that a new government will address their aspirations for peace and statehood".

But the statement stressed that "future assistance to any future government would be reviewed by donors against the government's commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap."

With three months likely to pass before a new Palestinian government is formed, the quartet's stance amounts to a watch period for Hamas to change if it wants to be accepted as a serious partner in the peace process.

A senior Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, appealed earlier yesterday in Gaza City to the quartet to meet the radical Islamist organisation for "a dialogue without preliminary conditions and in a spirit of neutrality".

Israel meanwhile declared that it has decided to freeze funds to the Palestinian Authority, fearing the money could end up being used to attack and kill Israeli citizens.

Two million shekels ($46.82 million) – drawn mainly from sales tax revenues and customs duties on Palestinian-bound goods passing through Israel – were due to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority tomorrow.