Hamas hopes for softer U.S. line on unity deal

Hamas said on Tuesday it still hoped Washington would soften its position toward a Palestinian unity government despite Israeli statements that the United States and Israel would shun it until it met several conditions. “The American position remains unsettled — once threatening a boycott and once saying they would wait and see,” said Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

“Maybe they will have a clearer position after the government is announced and we hope it would be a more logical and flexible position,” he said following a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice held a meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction signed a power-sharing pact with the Islamist Hamas group in Mecca, Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Olmert said after the talks that Israel and the United States agreed to boycott the Palestinian government, which has yet to be formed, unless it renounced violence, recognized Israel and accepted existing interim peace accords.

Rice did not address the issue in her brief public remarks following a session that ended only with a pledge to meet again, but noted it was the position of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators that the terms must be met.

Hamas has said it will never recognize Israel. The Mecca deal, which calmed weeks of Hamas-Fatah fighting that killed more than 90 people, contained a vague promise to “respect” previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Rice traveled to Amman on Tuesday to brief Jordan’s King Abdullah and security and intelligence chiefs from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt on her Jerusalem meeting.

“Neither the American administration nor Israel should have any right to determine our agenda. We have reached an agreement among ourselves and we will act in accordance to Palestinian interests,” said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader.

Addressing parliament, Haniyeh said he hoped to announce a new government within three weeks and to resolve within that period the issue of an Israeli soldier abducted in June by Gaza militants.

Palestinians have demanded that Israel free more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for the soldier, Gilad Shalit.


Abbas meanwhile set off to visit European and Arab countries to seek support for the unity deal and resumption of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority that Western donors cut off after Hamas came to power in an election a year ago, aides said.

“The president … will explain the (unity) agreement to world leaders and try to put an end to the old position of siege and isolation,” said Tawfiq Abu Khoussa, a Fatah spokesman.

The Quartet, composed of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations, is set to meet in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss the Rice-Abbas-Olmert meeting and how to deal with a new Palestinian coalition.

Haniyeh said he hoped some of the Quartet members would soften the group’s position. Many Palestinians feel that Russia and the European Union are sympathetic to their cause.

The Spanish and Italian prime ministers, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Romano Prodi, who met in Ibiza, Spain, called for an international conference “when circumstances allow so that Israel and all its neighbors can reach peace through dialogue and negotiation”.

“We hope there will soon be a Palestinian national unity government and that it can restart the peace process according to the principles laid out by the road map and the Quartet,” the two leaders wrote in an editorial in El Pais newspaper.

The road map is a U.S.-backed peace plan charting reciprocal Israeli and Palestinian steps toward the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.


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