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Pressure Building On Israel And Palestine To Transform Relations

The new Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by David Lepeska
United Nations (UPI) Apr 03, 2006
Responding to heightened tensions resulting from the latest Middle Eastern facelift, major international players are urging Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take legitimate steps toward reconciliation and stability.

The European Union, Russia, United Nations, and the United States, a.k.a. the diplomatic Quartet, Thursday reiterated their call to withhold aid from Hamas if the Islamist group maintained its founding beliefs, while a U.N. official prodded Israel to end the Gaza closure in light of humanitarian concerns.

"Our position and that of the Quartet is consistent," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said to the Security Council Thursday, a day after the newly elected Hamas officially took power in the Palestinian Authority.

"Future assistance to the new Palestinian Authority government will be reviewed against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations."

On the heels of Israeli parliamentary elections Tuesday, the swearing in of new Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet calcified an expected break with Israel and finalized a sea of change in the Middle East, where a 1990s peace process morphed first into the deadly Palestinian intifada and more recently into a tense stare-down.

"It's amazing to see how in a few months the Israeli-Palestinian situation has transformed," said Michael Herzog, Brigadier General in the Israel Defense Forces and a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Hamas is in control and trying to appear moderate, while in Israel a centrist government contemplates unilateralism."

The United Nations urged that government to reconsider the Gaza closure in light of potentially disastrous results.

"Despite the gulf between the parties, (Israel) and the international community share a common interest and duty to prevent a security or humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory," said Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh. While acknowledging Israel's security concerns, he observed that "the extended closure of Gaza has caused real hardship."

From a summit in Khartoum, the Arab League expressed support for the near-bankrupt PA as it came under Hamas control, but did not increase its aid in light of the U.N. warning. Hamas asked for $100 million per month but the Arab League maintained its $55 million allocation.

Mindful of the looming crisis, the Quartet "encouraged humanitarian assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people," while maintaining its threat to withhold direct budgetary aid.

"The problem is that it is not always easy to distinguish between the two," said Herzog. "And how do you monitor funds to make sure they reach the right destination? What needs to be done is to create some new tools for working with and measuring aid on the ground."

There has been little to measure from Israel, which continues to withhold supplies from Gaza and about $50 million in monthly tax revenues that funds PA hospitals and schools.

"The Palestinian people must not be punished by anyone for exercising their democratic right to elect their representatives," said the Palestinian representative to the U.N. Riyad Mansour, citing the prevention of medicines, grains, dairy products, and baby formula from entering Gaza. "This policy of starvation ... must be halted immediately."

Some think Hamas has larger concerns.

"You are probably going to see a dysfunctional Palestinian Authority," Herzog said. "Because Hamas has disruptive and destructive power, but when you have to engage in nation-building, that's something else."

Still, the new Palestinian leadership has softened its stance of late, with Haniyeh calling for Quartet dialogue and offering Israel the olive branch of negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The United States saw the offers as disingenuous.

"We will continue to judge Hamas by its actions, not its words," said Bolton. "We have seen nothing that would cause us to change our position towards Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law."

In Israel, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, founded last year by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who suffered a severe stroke in December 2005, won the most parliamentary seats, 28, after a record low voter turnout. Olmert has said he would unilaterally define Israel's permanent borders over the next four years, effectively annexing swaths of the West Bank, if Hamas refused to negotiate.

Should the unilateral movements occur, the U.N. Environmental Program strained for hope Thursday. Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza was environmentally clean, strengthening social and economic development in the area.

"It is my sincere hope that cooperation on environment can serve as a confidence-building tool between the parties," said U.N. Environment Program Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "Any further Israeli pullouts from the West Bank now have an important ecological benchmark by which they can be judged."

Executing such pullouts, however, may prove difficult.

"We oppose and reject all unilateral settlements," said Mansour, speaking to the Security Council. "It is an attempt to confer legitimacy on Israel's illegal settlements, to negate the rights of the Palestine refugees and to dilute international opposition to the catastrophic expansionist wall," referring to the barrier erected by Israel.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mousa echoed Mansour.

"It is absolutely out of the question to accept ... unilateral withdrawals according to Israeli whims."

Source: United Press International

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