Latest News

International donors pressure Hamas to change

LONDON—International mediators on Monday demanded that any new Palestinian government formed by the Islamist group Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and pursue a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The statement by the Quartet—the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations—fell short of calls by the Bush administration and Israel to cut off international financing for a Palestinian government formed by Hamas. The United States, the United Nations and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won only a warning that countries and financial institutions would reconsider assistance if the government refused to embrace the Quartet's conditions.

"The Quartet concluded that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitments to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations" to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict, said the statement, which was read by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Rice said at a news conference with Annan and other Quartet representatives that the statement bound all international donors to "insist that any future Palestinian government will live up to these obligations."

"Those who have been elected by the Palestinian people have an obligation, and that obligation is to speak to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a better life and for a peaceful life," she said.

The Quartet issued the statement after more than two hours of talks to consider Hamas' startling landslide Palestinian parliamentary election victory last week.

Hamas has carried out numerous suicide bombings against Israelis and has refused to disarm. For the past year, however, it largely has abided by a cease-fire, although its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Hamas has refused to change its stand since its election victory. Hamas candidates and allied politicians won 80 seats out of 132 in the Palestinian parliament, trouncing Fatah, the faction founded by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Quartet appeared to be giving Hamas time to reconsider its hard-line positions while it works to form a new government, a process that could take up to three months.

"If Hamas accepts them (the Quartet's conditions) and transforms itself from an armed movement into a political party respecting the rules of the game and representing its people, I think the international community should be able to work with them," Annan said.

The Bush administration had sought a Quartet threat of a cut-off of international financing to strong-arm Hamas into renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and embracing peace negotiations.

About $1 billion of the Palestinian Authority's annual $1.6 billion budget comes from international donors. The largest donor, the European Union, provided $615 million last year.

The Palestinian Authority is on the verge of financial collapse, running a deficit of more than $60 million. It's also plagued by corruption.

The EU froze millions of dollars in funds because the authority failed to contain its expenditures. Israel, meanwhile, has frozen a critical flow of tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The taxes are estimated at $600 million annually.

Outside donors have criticized the Palestinian Authority for approving pay raises for workers even though it didn't have the money to cover them. The Palestinian Authority also has come under fire for maintaining a security force of some 58,000 members, many of whom do little more than collect paychecks.

After days of vowing not to beg for money, Hamas on Monday appealed to international donors not to cut off the flow of funds.

At a news conference in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyah, a top Hamas politician, sought to reassure international donors that their funds wouldn't be misused.

"We assure that this money will be spent on employee salaries and day-to-day needs," said Haniyah.

The Quartet, concerned that the financial crisis could further destabilize the chaotic Palestinian territories, stressed that nations and international institutions should continue to aid the interim government headed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas until Hamas assumed power.

The United States provided $70 million directly to the Palestinian Authority in 2005 and has budgeted none for this year. Separately, the United States last year provided $225 million in humanitarian assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development and $88 million to U.N. assistance programs for the Palestinians.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who served as an election observer and was invited to the Quartet session by Annan, warned against suddenly cutting off assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

And ending of salaries for its security forces "might very well create a tendency for ... a violent reaction," he said.

The next major crisis could come if Israel refused to allow elected Hamas leaders to cross checkpoints in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to attend parliament sessions in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Carter said.

"I've been informed that the Israeli government will not permit them to cross the checkpoints," he said. Such a move would make it impossible to form a government, and Carter said Palestinians from all parties would consider it an insult.


(Landay reported from London, Nissenbaum from Jerusalem.)


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Need to map