World powers sought common ground Wednesday to confront Palestinian Hamas militants who are politically emboldened by a new power-sharing pact with moderates.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were scheduled to hold separate meetings in Berlin on the pact he made with Hamas. The deal, although not final, falls far short of international demands that Hamas drop its signature anti-Israeli policies. Hamas has refused to bend despite a boycott of vital international aid.
Diplomats from the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations were conferring Wednesday on the changed circumstances since Abbas announced the agreement two weeks ago. The group, known collectively as the Quartet, are stewards of a mothballed 2003 peace plan that would eventually establish an independent Palestinian state.
Rice planned to brief foreign ministers from the group about her meeting Monday with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The United States pointed to positive momentum from the talks, the first of their kind in six years, despite few obvious signs of progress. Israel balked at pursuing far-reaching peace proposals with Abbas, following his Fatah faction’s power-sharing deal with Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Jewish state.
On Tuesday, Israel ruled out holding further Mideast peace talks with Abbas once he forms a coalition with Hamas militants, saying the new unity government must go along with international demands to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Rice and Abbas met separately in Amman on Tuesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Abbas said after the meeting that Monday’s summit had been “tense and difficult” but “it was not a failure, and it will be followed by other meetings.”
Abbas planned to fly to Germany, Britain and France on a campaign to convince European leaders â€” whom the Palestinians hope are wavering on the economic boycott â€” that the unity deal was a major victory that should be rewarded.
He said Israel may have “misunderstood” the coalition deal, which “was made to protect the unity of the Palestinian people and its national interests,” according to Jordan’s official Petra news agency.
But Israel remained adamant.
“The agreements between Hamas and Abu Mazen disappoint all who supported separating the extremists from the moderates and creating an alternative government in the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday, referring to Abbas by his nickname.
Miri Eisin, Olmert’s spokeswoman, ruled out holding any talks on a final peace deal with Abbas if he formed a new Cabinet that included Hamas.
Israel would continue to deal with Abbas, but only on such matters as improving Palestinians’ living conditions and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel â€” not on a final peace deal.
Rice was also meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is shouldering Europe’s leadership role in pushing for peace in the Middle East and has pressed for more frequent gatherings of the Quartet.
Earlier this month, Merkel went on a four-day tour of Arab countries â€” Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait â€” warning of a “window of opportunity that is finite” to make progress.
European diplomats, like some U.S. allies in the Arab world, have also been pressing for a more muscular U.S. role in bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. With less than two years to go in office, it is unclear if President Bush and Rice can gain much traction.
German officials on Tuesday rejected suggestions that Rice’s meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders had been a failure, saying the talks had indicated stronger U.S. involvement in seeking a solution and had shown communication lines between Abbas and Olmert were intact.
“It is without question significant that these talks will be continued â€” and although no agreement may have been reached … this is a positive result,” said German government spokesman Thomas Steg.