JERUSALEM, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled Wednesday there would be no agreement with the Palestinians as long as the majority there supports the Islamic Hamas.
He did, however, state he would like to continue a dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah Party.
Olmert spoke Wednesday to foreign correspondents one day after his trilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Abbas. The participants in the trilateral meeting focused on the agreement that Fatah and Hamas concluded in Mecca and the subsequent attempts to form a national unity government. Olmert told Abbas that Israel would not deal with such a government or with any of its ministers.
He argued that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal "says openly, publicly nd formally in any platform in the world that he doesn't want to negotiate with Israel and he doesn't want to make peace with Israel.... The fact that the leader of more than 50 percent of the Palestinian electorate openly says he will do everything to destroy the State of Israel is very sad but it is a reality."
Israel cannot sit with someone, "Who is aiming a gun at your head and says, 'If you come close I'll kill you,'" he added.
Abbas wants to negotiate a permanent settlement with Israel and his chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, took advantage of a loophole. He is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and as such has "jurisdiction over the political negotiations.... No one should seek pretexts in order not to engage in political negotiations," Erakat argued.
But Olmert indicated Wednesday there was no sense in trying to make a deal with someone who cannot deliver.
"A body which does not represent the majority today amongst the Palestinians will not be able to actually carry out any commitment that will make any such talks valuable and meaningful," Olmert said. In the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council Hamas won an absolute majority.
"The majority among the Palestinians voted for people who do not want to make peace with Israel and without a change among the Palestinians it would be very difficult to accomplish this (agreement)," Olmert added.
He said he would negotiate with Hamas if it accepts the demands that the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- in other words, the Quartet -- have presented. The Quartet has been demanding the Palestinians accept Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements made with Israel. Hamas rejected those demands although it expressed readiness to "respect" past agreements.
That is not good enough, Olmert said. It should "recognize all the agreements that Israel and the PLO have concluded and "implement them," he told his Kadima parliamentary faction. He nevertheless intends to continue a dialogue with Abbas. "I know of no other person that has any kind of authority among the Palestinians who is a better candidate for a dialogue with me," the prime minister said. Abbas won the 2005 presidential elections.
"My staff will meet with his staff on a regular basis hoping to create the necessary environment (in the hope that one day) .... The promise of this dialogue will be stronger," Olmert said.
Abbas might have to convince his people that he is doing the right thing by continuing a dialogue with Israel, even if they are not moving any closer to fulfilling the Palestinian dreams of having their own sovereign state.
What could help him is the agreement that the contacts "will focus on the need to change the Palestinians' quality of life." Israel still collects taxes and customs on goods destined for the Palestinian territories and has passed some of the money to Abbas' men.
Rice's trip, then, was not an attempt at "conflict resolution" but a move designed to "contain and manage the conflict," suggested retired Israeli intelligence Col. Eran Lerman. Lerman told United Press International the United Nations ultimatum to Iran over its nuclear program expires Friday. Iran's stance might lead to a decision to tighten sanctions "and for this you need a wide regional basis."
Potential participants who consider the Iranian program a threat to their national security wanted to keep the Israeli-Palestinian and the internal Palestinian dispute on a back burner and that, he suggested, was Rice's goal.