Hamas promises full cease-fire if Israel helps end boycott of PA governmentt

By Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn

Haaretz

Adar 17, 5767

If Israel agrees to persuade the international community not to boycott the new Palestinian unity government, the Palestinians "will offer a promise from Hamas and Fatah of a total cease-fire with Israel, including a complete halt to Qassam [rocket] fire and suicide bombings," a senior Hamas official told Haaretz yesterday.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas plans to deliver this offer at his upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian sources said. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, thought according to the Palestinians, the date has not yet been finalized.

However, the Hamas official warned, if Israel presses for a continuation of the international boycott and refuses to work with the unity government, the existing partial cease-fire will be in danger.

Olmert, however, plans to use the meeting to urge Abbas to ensure that the new government, which is currently being formed, accepts the Quartet's conditions: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and honoring previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

"This will not be a scolding conversation," said a government source, "but a heart-to-heart talk in which Olmert will try to exploit the grace period that remains before the new PA government is established."

Israel is also working to persuade the European Union - one of the Quartet's four members, along with the United States, Russia and the United Nations - to continue the boycott should the unity government not meet these three conditions, laid down by the Quartet last year.

Olmert has no plans to announce any additional steps to ease Palestinian life at his meeting with Abbas. This will be their third meeting over the last three months.

The Palestinians said the unity government was unlikely to be finalized until after the Olmert-Abbas meeting. As of yesterday, Hamas and Fatah were still arguing over who the interior minister should be.

Should the unity government not accept the Quartet's conditions, Israel also plans to boycott ministers from Abbas' Fatah Party. In Europe, however, there is growing support for dialogue with "moderate ministers."

One reason for this is the change in Abbas' position. When Hamas comprised the entire government, he supported the boycott. But now that a unity government is being formed, he wants the Europeans to work with Fatah government members, arguing that this will strengthen Fatah's position in its ongoing debate with Hamas over diplomatic policy.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who returned yesterday from a meeting with EU foreign ministers, said that thus far, the EU appears to be standing firm on the Quartet conditions, as evidenced by its rejection of an Italian-Spanish-French proposal to set up a special committee to reconsider the conditions for dialogue with the new unity government. However, fearing this position might erode, she devoted much of her visit to urging her counterparts to stand firm on this issue, arguing that insisting on the Quartet conditions would strengthen Palestinian moderates, whereas "compromising at this time would strengthen Hamas."

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, one of the leaders of the anti-boycott camp, opined recently that the EU should not insist that the new government recognize Israel. Instead, it should say that abiding by the other two conditions would be sufficient, in order to encourage Hamas to be more flexible rather than trying to pressure it, he argued.

The EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, harshly criticized Israel at a meeting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu last week: "You're not giving the Palestinians anything - neither territory nor hope," she said. But Israeli government sources claimed that she took a more moderate tone in meetings with other Israeli officials and refrained from criticism.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met yesterday with Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas' political bureau, and urged the Palestinians to continue the armed struggle against Israel, "which is undergoing the worst period of its existence, and getting worse." Iran also pledged financial aid to the new PA government.