State Dept.: New PA gov't must meet int'l demands
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Agencies
If the Palestinian Authority wants to have a "broader relationship" with the international community, it must recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in response to a deal on a Palestinian unity government reached Thursday night.
The deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which was reached after two days of intensive negotiations in the Saudi city of Mecca, sets out the principles of the unity government, including an ambiguous promise that it will "respect" previous peace deals with Israel, delegates said. The Mecca accord does not address the other two international requirements.
"The international community has made it clear that in order to be able to have a broader relationship with the Palestinian Authority government, that those principles are going to have to be met," The New York Times quoted Casey as saying. He added that officials were still studying the accord.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called on the international community Thursday to ensure that Israel's right to exist is respected by any Palestinian government that emerges from the talks.
Speaking in Madrid, Livni said the three requirements were not negotiable and applied to any future Palestinian governments.
"We expect the international community to stick to its own requirements that were stated after the elections which Hamas won," she said.
An agreement to abide by the three international demands would mean the lifting of the painful financial boycott of the Palestinian government, imposed after Hamas' election victory in January 2006.
Meshal asks world to recognize new gov't
The Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera quoted Abbas as saying at the ceremony that he has asked Palestinian Authority President Haniyeh to form the new government, and to respect all past peace agreements. The latter request had been a key sticking point in negotiations between the two sides.
Al-Jazeera aired images from the signing ceremony, attended by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal.
Meshal, also speaking at the ceremony, vowed that Hamas would not break the agreement, and that all factions would respect the deal. He asked the international community to recognize the new government.
Meshal pledged that the accord would put an end to violence after a series of truces between Fatah and Hamas gunmen that collapsed.
"I tell those who fear that the fate of this agreement will be the same fate of the old ones," he said. "We have pledged our allegiance to God from this sacred place... and we will go back to our country fully committed to it.
"I say to our young people that this is an agreement of the leadership of the biggest groups and none of you should accept any order from others to fire," he added.
In Gaza City, celebratory gunfire erupted for nearly an hour after the accord was announced. Residents expressed hope that the deal will mean a lifting of a crippling international financial boycott, imposed on the government Hamas formed after winning January 2006 elections.
"We've been holding our breath. God willing, this is a permanent agreement, not a temporary truce. We hope this will lead to lifting the siege," said Mahmoud Qassam, a fish seller watching the ceremony at his home in Gaza City's Shaati refugee camp, meters from Haniyeh's home.
Announcing the agreement at the ceremony, Abbas aide Nabil Amr read a letter in which Abbas designated Haniyeh to draw up the new government within five weeks, according to the formula agreed on in the talks.
The letter of designation also said the new Haniyeh-led government would respect past peace deals signed with Israel by the Fatah-dominated PLO.
Abbas said the deal would "satisfy our people... and bring us to the shores of peace... This initiative has been crowned with success."
Meshal said the accord will "unify our ranks. There is a commitment and unity. We will perseve this partnership."
It said it would also follow a document drawn up last summer by Hamas and Fatah activists jailed in Israel. That document calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Fatah official Maher Mekdad said Thursday that the two sides had reached an agreement on the division of ministries in a new cabinet.
The important post of interior minister, who controls most security services, will be an independent candidate proposed by Hamas and approved by Abbas, Mekdad said.
The second day of the marathon summit was spent working on the second part of the agreement: to what degree a new government will recognize previous peace deals with Israel.
The delegations held talks until 3 A.M. Wednesday, then resumed midmorning Thursday in a palace overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site - a venue pointedly chosen by their Saudi hosts to pressure them to compromise.
Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in Thursday afternoon that a complete deal could be reached as early as Thursday or Friday.
"We have achieved progress in some points, and there are no points that can hinder reaching an agreement, he told a press conference. We have a clear decision not to let the Mecca dialogue fail. We have no option: either to succeed or to succeed," he said.
"We want to create a unity government and that is everyone's demand. We want a government that can end the blockade," Abbas said Wednesday in live television footage of the meeting overlooking the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
"Recent days have been very black and may God not allow them to return. It has been a catastrophe that must not be repeated. We don't want blood spilt," he said.
"We will not leave this place without agreement, God willing," Meshal said Wednesday, speaking after Abbas. "If it finds us unified, the international community will have to respect our wishes and lift the unjust blockade."
British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett warned Wednesday, however, that even if Hamas and Fatah form a coalition, London will shun the resulting government as long as Hamas defies international demands to recognize Israel and foreswear violence.
France urges world to back Palestinian accord09 Feb 2007 10:35:35 GMT
By Paul Taylor
BRUSSELS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - France urged the international community on Friday to back a new national unity government formed by rival Palestinian factions while the European Union's foreign policy chief was cautiously positive.
EU diplomats said it was too early to expect any decision on lifting a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian government when the 27-nation bloc's foreign ministers meet on Monday but they were likely to issue a positive statement on the agreement.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he supported the deal between the moderate Fatah party and the militant Islamist Hamas movement signed in Mecca on Thursday, and called for international backing.
"I salute the inter-Palestinian agreement reached yesterday in Mecca on the creation of a national unity government," Douste-Blazy said in a statement.
"The inclusion in this government's programme of respecting international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) constitutes a step in the right direction towards full adherence to the international community's demands," he said.
The United States and the European Union suspended aid to and contact with the Palestinian government last year after Hamas took office rejecting international demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence or accept past peace agreements.
In Brussels, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the bloc would study the unity government agreement carefully and foreign ministers would discuss it at their regular monthly meeting next Monday.
"We are going to look at all the details with the best will, in a positive but cautious manner," Cristina Gallach said.
In an initial reaction late on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed efforts to end violence and promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and called the unity government agreement "an interesting and important development".
But she too said details would have to be studied carefully.
Gallach said the Quartet of international peace mediators -- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- were consulting by telephone to consider whether the unity accord reflected their three conditions.
"A window of opportunity is ajar again," an EU diplomat said. "One can say confidently that it's better that they have made an agreement rather than shooting at each other. But perhaps that's all you can say."
Gallach said the EU welcomed very much the efforts of Saudi Arabia to broker the agreement and said the EU had been calling since last year for a national unity government that respected the basic conditions of the international community.
Solana is due to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni this weekend in Munich at a security conference.
The next ministerial-level meeting of the Middle East Quartet is likely to take place after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Feb. 19. (Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris and Sophie Walker in London)
ANALYSIS: Unity deal is minimum required to remove the siege
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent
For a while it seemed that Khaled Meshal, not Mahmoud Abbas, was the Palestinian Authority chairman.
In his speech in Mecca on Thursday, Meshal stressed the commitment to stop the bloodshed among the Palestinian factions and the cooperation with Abbas. He did not say a word on the political issues the two had agreed upon.
In a letter on appointing the government, Abbas called on Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to honor (not to commit to) the signed agreements (without saying with whom), and to honor the international decisions and the Arab League's resolutions.
There is no commitment in the letter to keep past agreements and no direct recognition of Israel. But its wording is sufficient, at least for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, to lift the siege from the Palestinian Authority. Because it holds the essential turning point in Hamas' position: the acceptance in theory of the agreements and resolutions, including the Oslo Accords and the Arab League resolutions, such as those adopted by the Arab summit conference in Beirut in 2002, dealing with terms of normalization with Israel.
On the other hand, Hamas' insistence on the term "to honor" instead of "to commit to" turns the theoretical recognition into something impractical and appears to limit Abbas' ability to negotiate with Israel. For a government that cannot commit to uphold past agreements will not want to take part in drafting future ones.
Abbas will be appointing a cabinet which is not committed to the resolutions from which he derives his power and authority.
All the parties, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seem to understand that in view of the political situation in Israel and Washington's lack of interest in advancing the political process, it is better to make do with managing the internal Palestinian crisis.
Another question is whether the national unity government would be able to function. The portfolio allocation was agreed on before the Mecca gathering, following the monetary temptation the king had offered the Palestinians if they set up a unity government.
Arab sources say the new government will get half a billion dollars now for "routine maintenance" and additional large sums for rehabilitation and development later.
It is not clear, however, whether it will be possible to merge the armed Hamas and Fatah forces into one.
Various clauses of the agreement, such as Mohammed Dahlan's authorities as deputy prime minister, have yet to be agreed upon, but Saudi Arabia still has good cause for satisfaction. The agreement will not only enable it to lift the economic siege and funnel money to the PA, but also - and primarily - to block Iranian involvement in the Palestinian problem and keep it in Arab hands.