Accept Israel, get U.N. help


LONDON – The Bush administration won support from other would-be Mideast peacemakers yesterday in saying a Hamas-led Palestinian government would have to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist in order to receive crucial financial aid.

Hamas must accept the rule of law, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said after a meeting among members of the so-called Quartet that has tried to shepherd Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace table.

Annan said future aid to a new Palestinian government led by the militant Islamic group “would be reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to renounce violence, recognition of Israel” and other agreements, including the so-called roadmap peace plan that calls for the co-existence of Israel and a Palestinian state.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed Annan’s words, saying, “It is incumbent now for all to insist that any future Palestinian government will live up to these obligations.”

It remained unclear exactly what would happen to the international assistance that makes up most of the Palestinian Authority’s $1.6 billion annual budget. About $1 billion comes from Europe, the United States and other donor countries and international agencies, including $70 million from the U.S.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas appealed for continued world support, as did a Hamas leader who said his movement had written to the Quartet asking for direct talks and offering assurances that international aid would not go to Palestinian militants.

“We call on you to transfer all aid to the Palestinian treasury,” Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, told a news conference. “We assure you that all the revenues will be spent on salaries, daily life and infrastructure.”

Hamas also has said it would try to turn to the Arab and Muslim world for money if the U.S. and Europe cut back.

Hamas won a surprise victory in last week’s legislative elections, setting the Islamic militant group up to run the next government in the Palestinian territories bordering Israel. But the wary international reaction to its victory raised questions about how the Palestinian Authority would finance its annual budget.

President Bush insisted anew on Monday that the United States would not give direct aid to a government that includes terrorists. However, European leaders seemed less inclined to an immediate aid cutoff.

The Quartet includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Rice minimized any differences among the group’s members over aid to an extremist Islamic group that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“Everybody is saying exactly the same thing. … You cannot be on one hand dedicated to peace and on the other dedicated to violence. Those two things are irreconcilable,” she said.

Abbas, the U.S.-backed head of the defeated Fatah Party, remains as president but the extent of his power is not yet clear.

“The Hamas party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel to exist, and I have made it clear so long as that’s their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas,” Bush said in Washington.

European foreign ministers also conditioned aid on Hamas actions, but seemed prepared to give a brief grace period.

“We have urged Hamas and all other factions to renounce violence” and “respect Israel’s right to exist,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. “On that basis the EU stands ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state-building.”

Earlier, European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner warned that a precipitous cut-off of aid could bring down the Palestinian Authority, which Abbas still heads.

In addition to formal aid, the EU and the United States both have given far more to the Palestinians through indirect channels, including for humanitarian and development projects.

Rice said the United States will continue humanitarian aid on a case by case basis, and European nations seemed prepared to also continue indirect aid.

After meeting with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Abbas urged other nations to keep up financial aid.

“Our talks focused on the need to continue this aid so that our people can stand on their own feet,” he said.

Hamas said it was willing to have its spending monitored.

Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings. The group refuses to disarm or to recognize Israel, though it has hinted it could reach a long-term truce or other accommodation with the Jewish state. Since a cease-fire declaration last February, Hamas has not claimed involvement in any suicide attacks.