JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel was expected on Friday to impose tougher restrictions on Palestinians and freeze ties with their government after a Hamas-led parliament is sworn in on Saturday, Israeli political sources said.
Under a package of measures expected to be approved by interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinians would be barred from working in Israel and from travelling between Gaza and the West Bank.
Olmert was also expected to order a halt to further tax revenue transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority in a bid to pressure Hamas, winner of the Jan. 25 Palestinian election, to renounce violence, recognise the Jewish state and abide by interim peace deals.
“What’s important is that the Palestinians realise the consequences of their vote,” said a senior Israeli source, speaking on condition of anonymity because Olmert has yet to announce his decision.
“I don’t think the Palestinian people, when they voted Hamas into office, wanted to have Gaza cut off from the West Bank. So they have to raise the issue with their representatives,” the official said.
Ahead of the decision, a U.S. State Department official cautioned Israel to take into account “the consequences of any move, especially with an eye to avoiding increasing any hardship for Palestinians”.
Gideon Meir, a deputy director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said Israel had no intention of making Palestinian people’s lives “miserable.”
“Our intention is to make it clear that Israel will not be dealing with a terrorist organisation called Hamas,” Meir said.
Hamas has masterminded nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely adhered to a truce declared in March last year.
Despite Olmert’s expected clampdown on a Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority, Israel was likely to maintain ties with President Mahmoud Abbas, who will ask Hamas on Saturday to form a government that will respect peace deals with Israel and put a stop to violence.
“We need to hurt Hamas but not hurt the Palestinian people or the alestinian president,” veteran Israeli statesman Shimon Peres told Army Radio.
Taking a tough line on Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, could boost Olmert’s political standing in the run-up to Israel’s March 28 general election.
Opinion polls predict his centrist Kadima party will win on a platform of disengaging from the Palestinians.
But the expected work and travel restrictions would be largely symbolic since only several thousand Palestinians would be affected.
Israel has imposed strict limits on the number of workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and on travel between the territories since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.
Israel had also previously indicated that tax revenue transfers would stop, and it has had mixed results convincing other countries to cut funding and ties to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
Israel had said it would consider Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony to be the start of a Hamas-led government, even though it could take several more weeks for the group to form a cabinet and exert control.
In addition to restrictions on Palestinians, Olmert was expected to freeze plans to build a Gaza seaport and rebuild its airport. Under interim peace deals, Israel, which withdrew from Gaza last year, still controls its airspace and coastal waters.
Officials said Israel decided against cutting off water and power to the Palestinians.