Quartet urges Palestinian government to recognize Israel

Abbas’ top advisers call on UN chief after meeting Rice, US wants to study Palestinian accord on unity govt.

WASHINGTON – The international Quartet pushing the Middle East peace process on Friday urged the next Palestinian national unity government to recognize Israel.  

“While awaiting formation of the new Palestinian government, the Quartet reaffirmed its statement of February 2 regarding its support for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap,” the group said in a joint statement released by the US State Department.


The statement said the Quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — will meet in Berlin on February 21 “to continue their consideration of these developments, and to review formation and implementation of the agreement on the government.”


“The Quartet will discuss the way ahead at the February 21 meeting,” the statement added.


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US President George W. Bush have laid out a Middle East strategy focused on rallying what they call “mainstream” Arab forces to isolate “extremists” backed by Syria and Iran.


Washington has largely ignored the Quartet for most of the Bush administration, and a ministerial meeting February 2 was the first in five months.


Rival factions Hamas and Fatah have condemned the failure of the major powers involved in Middle East peacemaking to end a punishing Western aid embargo on the Palestinians.

Abbas’ top advisers call on UN chief after meeting Rice


Top advisers to Mahmud Abbas said they had “fruitful” talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon here Friday on the Palestinian president’s power-sharing agreement with the democratically elected government of Hamas in Mecca.


Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and top Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) member Yasser Abed Rabbo also brought up the next meeting of the Middle East Peace Quartet — the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia — in Berlin on February 21.


“We had a fruitful meeting with the secretary general,” Rabbo told reporters, noting that the focus was on Abbas’s accord with Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal in Saudi Arabia.


The meeting also dealt with “issues related to the next meeting of the Quartet,” Rabbo added.


The two Palestinian negotiators came to UN headquarters only hours after they met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on their way back from Mecca.


Palestinian observer to the UN Ryad Mansour told reporters that Erekat indicated that Rice’s initial reaction to the Mecca agreement was “cautious” and that the US chief diplomat was “enthusiastic” about her three-way summit with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on February 19.


Asked about a statement issued by the Quartet Friday urging the next Palestinian national unity government to recognize Israel, Mansour said: “One should take into consideration that shifting political positions does not happen overnight.”


“One should be patient to give time to allow this transformation to take place,” the Palestinian observer noted, adding that Erekat felt that the shifts were heading “in a positive direction one should support”.


The Mecca accord made no explicit reference to Israel or to respecting interim peace deals signed by the PLO.


But in a letter formally tasking Haniya with forming the new cabinet, Abbas called on him to “respect” agreements signed by the PLO, which Hamas has never joined.


Meshaal said the Islamist movement will stick to Abbas’s commissioning letter, but did not clarify his group’s position on recogizing Israel.

Hamas speaks ‘new language’ after Mecca deal


Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal said Friday the agreement with Fatah to form a unity government represents a shift in Hamas’s political language concerning Palestinian international agreements.


“As for respecting (international) agreements, yes, it is a new language, because this is a national necessity, and we should (also) speak using a language that is suitable for this period of time,” Meshaal said.


“The Mecca Declaration is a new political language for Hamas,” he said. Meshaal was speaking a day after he and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas signed an accord to form a unity government.


Meshaal said the democratically elected government will stick to Abbas’s commissioning letter, but did not clarify his group’s position on recogising Israel.


“We adhere to the commissioning letter,” he said.


Hamas’s spokesman was quick to reiterate Friday the movement’s stance on Israel.


“The position of Hamas is well-known: non-recognition of the Zionist entity,” Ismail Radwan said.


Accepting interim peace deals with the Jewish state is one of three conditions imposed by for resuming aid.

US wants to study Palestinian accord on unity government


The United States said Friday it needed more time to study a power-sharing agreement between Palestinian factions to determine if it meets Western conditions for restoring aid to the Palestinian government.


“It’s important that we be given some time to look at the agreement, especially at the details of it,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.


Perino said she hoped the pact would help end the violence between Fatah and Hamas supporters.


“We will see in the coming days and weeks whether or not this government of national unity is one that is clearly and credibly committed to those principles,” State Department spokesman Sean Mccormack said in explaining why Washington was withholding its judgement.


The exact makeup of the cabinet and details of its policy program will not be known for weeks and US officials said they were awaiting those decision.


“We need to see a government be formed and see what the policies and practices of that government are,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

Israeli FM: Hamas does not represent Palestinian interests


Hamas does not represent the national Palestinian interest, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said here Friday.


“Hamas doesn’t represent the national Palestinian interests or aspiration,” Livni said in the opening speech to the Munich Conference on Security Policy.


“There is a need for a clear distinction between moderates and the extremists,” she said.


Livni, who is also a deputy prime minister in the Israeli government, said it was essential to stick by the internationally agreed “road map” for Middle East peace.


“The principles are clear as well as the way to realise it. The road map represents it,” she said.

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