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Rice, Abbas discuss Hamas-Fatah coalition

The U.S. and Israel agreed ahead of a three-way meeting with the Palestinians not to work with any new Palestinian government that does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talks to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday.Omar Rashidi / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The U.S. and Israel agreed ahead of a three-way meeting with the Palestinians not to work with any new Palestinian government that does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing peace agreements, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday.

The so-called Quartet of Mideast negotiators — the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia — has set these demands as a condition for lifting crippling international sanctions against the Palestinians. The platform of a new Palestinian power-sharing agreement reached this month speaks only of “respect” for existing peace deals.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday tried to persuade visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to give the Hamas-Fatah coalition a chance, his aides said.

Rice told Abbas she would withhold judgment until the government has been formed, but suggested the U.S. would not budge from its demands, Abbas’ aides said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the talks with reporters.

Abbas, in turn, told Rice that his deal with Hamas was the best he could get, suggesting change in the government’s program was unlikely. He also emphasized that he, not the government, would handle negotiations with Israel, and Rice assured him the U.S. would continue dealing with him, his aides said.

3-way summit set for MondayLater Monday, Rice was to meet with Olmert, ahead of Monday’s trilateral summit. The summit on Monday was initially billed as an attempt to revive long-stalled peace talks, but has been eclipsed by friction over the power-sharing deal.

Olmert said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that he and President Bush had spoken by phone about the deal and agreed the Palestinians had to go further.

“A Palestinian government that won’t accept the Quartet conditions won’t receive recognition and cooperation,” Olmert said. “The American and Israeli positions are totally identical on this issue.”

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to sabotage the unity deal, which has helped halt months of deadly fighting.

“The American and Israeli interference today aim to destroy the basic principles and the basis of the Palestinian cause ... and to divert our cause,” he said.

Abbas had tried during months of coalition talks to press Hamas to agree to abide by existing peace accords — something that would imply recognition of Israel — but yielded after multiple rounds of deadly Palestinian infighting.

“I hope that this meeting with the three of us will be an opportunity to understand the current situation and commit and recommit to existing peace agreements,” Rice told reporters, with Abbas seated at her side.

Washington impatient with Abbas While pledging to maintain contacts with Abbas, U.S. officials are becoming impatient with the Palestinian president, whose staff said he would not budge from the Mecca deal.

Roni Bar-On, an Israeli cabinet minister close to Olmert, said Israel “would not boycott” Abbas because it needed to keep a channel of communications open with the Palestinians and snubbing him would “definitely thrust him towards Hamas.”

At the start of her talks with Abbas, Rice said she looked forward to hearing more from him on the unity deal.

Abbas said they would discuss the Mecca agreement and explore “the horizon for the peace process” at Monday’s talks.

Earlier, in talks with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Rice was asked whether there was agreement to boycott a unity government. She did not respond, although she said on Saturday such a decision had not yet been made.

Senior Palestinian officials said Abbas had replied angrily to a warning by a senior U.S. official on Saturday that Washington would shun unity government ministers, including Fatah members, if the Quartet’s terms were not met.

“President Abbas ... shouted, saying: ‘You are placing pressure on me. I have internal pressure — the pressure is unbearable. The only alternative to this agreement is civil war’,” one Palestinian official said.

More than 90 Palestinians have been killed in recent factional warfare between Fatah and Hamas.

Both groups hope the unity deal can end internal violence and also persuade Western donors to restore direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, cut off after Hamas came to power.