Israelis Seek to Isolate Palestinian Authority

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Jerusalem with acting Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, said the European Union would not fund the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not renounce violence and recognize Israel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Jerusalem with acting Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, said the European Union would not fund the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not renounce violence and recognize Israel. (By Goran Tomasevic -- Reuters)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 30, 2006

GAZA CITY, Jan. 29 -- Israeli officials sought support for an international boycott of a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, as leaders of the radical Islamic group said Sunday they did not expect the Bush administration to end funding once they form a cabinet in the coming weeks. Doing so would conflict with the democratic values the administration promotes in the region, they said.

"We don't have any fears," said Saed Siyam, a Hamas candidate elected to parliament last week who frequently serves as the group's emissary to the outside world. "The American and the Europeans have an interest in this also. They will be embarrassed in this part of the world if they punish a people simply for expressing their democratic wishes."

The resounding victory of Hamas -- designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union and the United States -- has threatened the Palestinian Authority's lifeblood of foreign aid. But the collapse of the authority, which has been dominated by the secular Fatah party, would pose enormous financial risks for the Israeli government and could give countries opposed to U.S. policies a chance to play a larger role in financing the Palestinians.

"Israel and the international community are now about to collapse the Palestinian Authority, and that would bring us back to the occupied-occupier relationship," said Ghassan Khatib, the outgoing Palestinian planning minister who is not a member of either major party. He added that this would "force Israel" to shift from its current indirect responsibility for matters in the territories "back to a direct responsibility for all Palestinian needs."

The group known as the quartet -- the United States, the E.U., Russia and the United Nations -- is scheduled to meet Monday in London to consider whether to continue funding the Palestinian government. Hamas won 74 of the parliament's 132 seats in the elections last week, according to a final count released Sunday, ending the long dominance of Fatah and earning Hamas the right to form the next cabinet.

Spending nearly its entire $1 billion in annual, locally generated revenue on salaries, the Palestinian Authority is running a monthly deficit of more than $50 million. The government also receives about $1 billion a year in foreign aid, mostly from the United States and Europe.

In recent days, President Bush has suggested it would be impossible to continue assisting the Palestinian Authority, created under the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel, with Hamas a part of the government. "I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform," Bush said.

Hamas has long opposed the peace agreement, and its military wing has been responsible for attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Last year, the Bush administration provided $403 million in development aid to the Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the form of public works projects and other programs managed mostly by nongovernmental organizations. European governments provided roughly $300 million.

Israel is also threatening to stop reimbursing the Palestinian Authority the roughly $50 million a month it collects in taxes and customs fees on the Palestinians' behalf. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official Sunday as saying the next payment, due this week, would not be made.

Under international law, Israel remains the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, with responsibility for the well-being of the roughly 4 million Palestinians in those territories. This legal designation has not been modified, despite Israel's departure from this unruly coastal strip last year. The Palestinian Authority has been providing health, education and welfare services that Israel would have to finance in its absence. There are approximately 135,000 Palestinians on the payroll, 40 percent of whom are members of the security services.

In recent days, the Israeli government has been shoring up support for a boycott of the Palestinian Authority once Hamas forms its first cabinet. That should happen soon after parliament convenes in early March.

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