Sat, Jan 28, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Middle Eastern impasse looms after Hamas victory

NO TALKS Israel rejected talking with the militant group if destruction of the Jewish state is part of its charter, while the US and Europe were also critical

AGENCIES , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK AND DAVOS, SWITZERLAND

Israel ruled out talks and the vanquished Fatah Party rejected a joint government with Hamas after the Islamic movement's sweeping victory in Palestinian elections, in what could be the first steps to isolate the militant group and freeze Middle East peace initiatives.

The US and EU nations declared on Thursday that Hamas could not form a legitimate government unless it drops its demand to destroy Israel and renounces violence.

"If your platform is `destruction of Israel,' it means you're not a partner in peace, and we're interested in peace," US President George W. Bush said. Similar statements came from other parts of the world.

European parliament members spoke of the possibility that donors would cut off vital aid, putting Hamas under extreme pressure to moderate its hardline positions. The US consul in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, said yesterday it was too early to discuss the possibility.

Israel was unprepared for the Hamas win. Foreign and defense ministry scenarios put such a stunning blow to the long-ruling Fatah as a low probability, officials said.

But after the rout, Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, quickly ruled out talks: "The state of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian administration if even part of it is an armed terrorist organization calling for the destruction of the state of Israel," Olmert said in a statement.

Tel Aviv also threw into doubt its willingness to transfer customs revenue to the Palestinians.

"We will face problems of how you deal with people that call for the destruction of Israel," Joseph Bachar, director general at the Israeli finance ministry, told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Bachar was referring to customs and value-added tax revenue that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians and which he described as the main source for financing the Palestinian budget.

Fatah, turned out of office by Palestinians angry over its corrupt and inefficient government, offered no help to Hamas -- catapulted into leadership after its first-ever foray into parliamentary politics.

Fatah leaders decided late on Thursday not to enter a joint government with Hamas.

By the numbers, Hamas does not need Fatah -- it won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, a clear majority. Fatah, the undisputed ruler of Palestinian politics for four decades, got only 43. But some 14 newly-elected members of the new Palestinian Legislative Council will be absent when the chamber meets as they are sitting in Israeli jails, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday.

One inmate of a Palestinian jail was also elected, the daily said, quoting figures released by the Mandela Institute for Human Rights prisoner advocacy group.

A Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said yesterday that he had asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's chief, to meet tomorrow to discuss forming a new government. Abbas' office said no appointment has been made yet.

Abbas said separately that he would tap Hamas to lead the next government.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia of Fatah and his Cabinet resigned on Thursday to make room for a Hamas government. And thousands of angry Fatah supporters marched in Gaza City early yesterday, firing rifles in the air and demanding that Fatah leaders resign, while backing their decision to stay out of a Hamas government.

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