JERUSALEM, AP -Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is “not relevant” because of the victory of the militant Islamic Hamas in last month’s parliamentary elections, Israel’s acting foreign minister said in an apparent disagreement with the United States.
Tzipi Livni spoke Sunday after meeting with U.S. envoy David Welch to discuss how to relate to Abbas, the Fatah leader who is president of the Palestinian Authority. Last week, Abbas picked Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to form a new Cabinet.
Israel Radio reported that Welch put forward a policy in which the United States would work with Abbas instead of the Hamas-led government, but Israel rejected that.
Livni told Israel Radio that Abbas “can’t be a fig leaf for a terrorist authority. Abu Mazen (Abbas) can’t be a pretty face for ugly terror that hides behind it.” She said the Hamas government must decide about Israel’s demands for recognition and renunciation of terror, and Abbas “in this regard is not relevant.”
Without referring to the radio report, Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, spokeswoman of the U.S. consulate in east Jerusalem, said: “In terms of Abu Mazen, we remain fully committed and supportive of him.”
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Livni’s remarks “totally unacceptable.” Erekat, from Fatah, said, “The Israelis are trying to undermine the Palestinian people in general because they don’t differentiate between one Palestinian and the other.”
Israel and the United States both consider Hamas a terror group. According to its Islamic theology, Hamas does not recognize the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel, killing hundreds.
Israel has suspended the transfer of tax money it collects for the Palestinian Authority, and donor nations have threatened to cut off funds to the already cash-strapped Palestinian government when a Hamas Cabinet takes office. Although Abbas has pressed Hamas to accept interim peace accords signed by previous Palestinian regimes, Livni said the ban should extend to Abbas, as well.
“Hamas is going to form the next government, and I think it would be a mistake to be consoled in the arms of Abu Mazen as the only legitimate leader,” she said. “We are trying to deal with the reality as it is.”
Haniyeh, meanwhile, denied saying Hamas would consider peace with Israel under certain conditions. He said Hamas is interested in a long-term truce. “I did not say anything about recognizing Israel,” Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh was quoted by The Washington Post on Saturday as saying Hamas would establish “peace in stages” if Israel would withdraw to its 1967 boundaries — before it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Haniyeh told reporters Sunday that his comments had been misunderstood. He said he was not referring to a peace agreement, only a “political truce.” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Associated Press that Haniyeh’s remarks must have been mistranslated.
Haniyeh laid down a series of demands that Israel has ruled out, including a full withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the return of several million Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel. “Then Hamas can grant a long-term truce,” Haniyeh said.
Israel, while accepting the principle of an independent Palestinian state, has said many times that it has no intention of returning to its prewar borders or accept return of refugees.
In a visit to Jordan, another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, ruled out peace with Israel.
“We don’t consider the Israeli enemy a partner. By winning the elections, we defeated Israel,” he told the AP. “Why should we recognize Israel?