peace negotiations by the end of the year. The announcement came as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reportedly condemned the United States and the European Union on Wednesday, May 10, for their insistence that the Hamas-led Palestinian government recognizes Israel and its right to exist.
Israeli media quoted him as saying that the international community was presenting the Palestinian Authority with new demands to "recognize the legitimacy of the occupation."
Haniyeh promised his government would continue to defend Palestinian rights and stressed that the US and European withdrawal of financial aid "can only unify the Palestinians." The EU, UN, Russia and the US announced Wednesday, May 10, they would set up only a "temporary international mechanism" to channel the money for a three month trial period after funds were frozen.
The US and EU have demanded Hamas recognises Israel and rejects violence. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly told Israel’s Army Radio the plan was acceptable to Israel. "As far as we are concerned, the Quartet’s decision to give further humanitarian support to the Palestinian Authority [PA], bypassing the Hamas government, is definitely okay," she was quoted as saying.
But in a published statement Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon, a close associate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s, was the first by an Israeli official to also set a deadline for Hamas to disarm and recognize the Jewish state.
The Palestinians’ moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah party, tried to persuade Israel to bypass Hamas and resume peace negotiations with him, but Olmert has made it clear that he is not prepared to negotiate with Abbas if Hamas doesn’t change its violent ways.
In a move that was expected to concern both evangelical Christian groups and Orthodox Jews living in and outside Israel, his government has indicated that setting the final borders could include a dividing of Jerusalem, BosNewsLife reported earlier. Some groups have said that Israel is the land of the Bible and that major border chances violates God’s comments, while other scholars say Scripture suggests the final Jewish state will be different and bigger.
Hamas thus far has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, despite intense international pressure and the cutoff of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and Israeli transfer payments.
Complicating the peace efforts was fresh fighting this week between different Palestinian factions. On Monday, May 8, three Palestinians were killed and 11 wounded in fighting between supporters of the groups Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip, seen as in the most serious inter-faction strife over the past three months, news reports said.
"Through the end of this year, 2006, there will be honest attempts to talk to the other side," The Associated Press (AP) quoted Israel’s Justice Minister Ramon as telling Army Radio. [But] if it becomes clear by the end of the year that we really have no partner, and the international community is also convinced of this, then we will take our fate into our own hands and not leave our fate in the hands of our enemies," he added.
Olmert, who was a major force behind Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year, has said he intends to pull Israeli settlers out of heavily populated Palestinian areas in the West Bank while fortifying major settlement blocs and holding on to the West Bank’s Jordan River Valley.
His original timetable had called for a pullback by 2010, but a top aide said last month that Israel planned to conclude the withdrawals by the end of President Bush’s second term in office at the end of 2008.
Asked how long the withdrawal would take, Ramon reportedly judged that it would be possible to complete the process in 18 to 24 months.
"I would like to believe that by the end of 2008 we will be deployed on a line that will symbolize the final borders of the state of Israel and promise our existence here as a Jewish democratic state," he said.
The borders, he said, "will first and foremost include the settlement blocs and the regions that are necessary for our security." Palestinian lawmaker and negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, was a ready and willing negotiating partner.
"President Abu Mazen stands ready to immediately resume permanent status negotiations," Erekat said. "At the same time, we urge the (Hamas-led) government to accept the two-state solution, but this should not stand in the way." (With reports from Israel).