JERUSALEM (Feb. 27)
Days into an Israeli-led funding embargo, Palestinians are beginning to pay the price of voting Hamas into power. International envoy James Wolfensohn warned this week that the Palestinian Authority was on the verge of a budgetary crisis due to Israel’s refusal to hand over some $55 million in monthly tax revenues. Israel says it will not give funds to the Hamas-led government until the radical Islamic group recognizes Israel and disavows terrorism.
“Unless a solution is found, we may be facing the financial collapse of the P.A. within two weeks,” Wolfensohn wrote in a letter to the Quartet of peace mediators — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
Vexed by the standoff, the European Union announced an emergency donation of $142 million to the Palestinian Authority on Monday, saying the money would go mainly toward covering civil service wages, energy costs and refugee aid.
The aid shows a rift in the international stance on aid to the Palestinians. The Bush administration has stood resolute in its position that no aid would go to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas reforms. For its part, Russia has confirmed that Hamas leaders will visit Moscow on Friday.
The need for such relief was underscored when an Israeli fuel company, Dor Alon, cut off supplies to the Gaza Strip for a day until the Palestinian Authority paid an outstanding $22 million bill.
The crisis has dealt a major blow to the credibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who since Hamas’ victory in the Jan. 25 election has been at pains to convince Israel and the West that he can continue to pursue peacemaking.
A British television channel that interviewed Abbas quoted him as saying that he would resign if his efforts to talks Hamas into softening its stance fail. But the Palestinian Authority president denied he had ever set such an ultimatum.
Meanwhile, the leading Hamas politician gave conflicting comments in interviews with U.S. media regarding relations with Israel.
In an interview with Newsweek, Ismail Haniyeh, tapped as the next Palestinian Authority prime minister, suggested Israel and the Palestinians could reach peace “in stages.” Haniyeh said that Israel should cease its military countermeasures and quit all of the West Bank if it wants the current lull in bloodshed to continue.
“If Israel withdraws to the 1967 border then we will establish a peace in stages,” he said.
Though Haniyeh refused to endorse past Israeli-Palestinian peace accords, he said: “We do not have any feeling of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody.”
On Sunday, he backpedaled from those comments, saying Hamas sought a “political truce” with Israel, not peace. Even before Haniyeh’s retraction, Israeli officials scoffed at the overture. They noted that he has ruled out any revision of the Hamas charter, which calls for the elimination of Israel and draws on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,”a 19th-century forgery that purports to outline a Jewish plot to control the world.
Israel, for its part, is preparing to end contacts with Abbas that had never borne fruit to begin with. Abbas consistently refused to crack down on Hamas as required by the Quartet’s “road map” peace plan, a position that allowed the group to flourish.
“The ball is in the Palestinian court and it is up to the future Hamas government to do something with it, and in this context, Abu Mazen is irrelevant,” Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told Channel 1 television, using Abbas’ nickname.
“Abu Mazen cannot be the fig leaf for a terrorist authority. Abu Mazen cannot be the pretty face of the ugly terror hiding behind him,” she said.