Mon, Feb 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

US, Israel put pressure on Palestinians


The US and Israel have agreed ahead of a three-way meeting with the Palestinians to shun any new Palestinian government that does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday.

The so-called Quartet of Mideast negotiators -- the US, EU, UN and Russia -- has set these demands as a condition for lifting crippling international sanctions. The platform of a new Palestinian power-sharing agreement, reached in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, speaks only of "respect" for existing peace deals.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert were to meet separately yesterday with US Secretary Condoleezza Rice ahead of their three-way meeting today. In a further indication of tensions before the meeting, Rice and Abbas canceled a press conference that had been scheduled to follow their one-on-one talks, Abbas' office said.

Before meeting with Abbas, Rice told reporters the two would discuss the power-sharing agreement, as well as prospects for peace.

The purpose of the meeting today would be to "examine the current situation and to commit -- recommit -- to existing agreements, but also to begin to explore and probe the political and diplomatic horizon," she said.

The summit today was initially billed as an attempt to revive long-stalled peace talks. But friction over the power-sharing deal has eclipsed that.

Olmert said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting that he and US President George W. Bush had spoken by phone on Friday about the deal and agreed the Palestinians had to go further.

"A Palestinian government that won't accept the Quartet conditions won't receive recognition and cooperation," Olmert said. "The American and Israeli positions are totally identical on this issue."

Neither Washington nor Israel have said, however, that they would boycott Abbas, who, as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, would represent the Palestinians in any peace talks. Peace negotiations broke down more than six years ago in an explosion of violence between the two sides.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who has been charged with putting together the next government, said the Palestinians had to hold firm against international criticism.

"We stand by President [Abbas] in defending this agreement and facing outside pressure, whether from the US administration of others," Haniyeh told reporters outside his office in Gaza City.

After meeting in Jerusalem on Saturday, Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reiterated their demands that any Palestinian government toe the international line.

Livni said the power-sharing agreement did "not meet the requirements" of the international community.

Abbas, she added, had to "isolate the moderates from the radicals in the Palestinian Authority."

Rice said the US would not judge the Palestinian government until it had been established, but acknowledged the coalition talks were overshadowing today's summit.

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