PA official Saeb Erekat announced Saturday that the U.S. State Department had promised him that America would not freeze aid to the Arabs of the PA-controlled areas, but would merely redirect it. Erekat made the announcement after meeting with State Department official David Welch.
“[The United States has] never transferred a single dollar to the Palestinian Authority directly. The money was being transferred via non-governmental organizations,” said Erekat, adding that such an arrangement would continue regardless of Hamas's actions. Welch refused to speak with reporters.
Erekat’s words contrast with those of U.S. President George W. Bush, who said Friday that Hamas would have to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism and strive toward peace if it wished to receive U.S. aid.
Ismail Haniye, the PA's prime minister-designate, told the Washington Post today that Hamas would be willing to consider fulfilling some of the PA's past agreements with Israel:
"We will review all agreements and abide by those that are in the interest of the Palestinian people, [namely, those] that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders -- as well as agreements that would release prisoners."
Haniye said that if Israel would retreat to the pre-1967 borders, release prisoners and allow the refugees of 1948 to return to their lands in Jaffa, Haifa and the like, "Hamas will have a position." Asked if this position would include an extension of the "present ceasefire" [which ended on Jan. 1 -ed.], Haniye said, "I will not say yes or no. The problem is with Israel..."
Israeli government ministers were not impressed with his statements. Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) said Haniye was setting a "honey trap," and that Haniye's mention of peace "hide conditions such as full withdrawal, release of all prisoners and terrorists, and Right of Return." Education Minister Meir Sheetrit was more willing to leave the door open for the organization whose raison d'etre is to destroy Israel. "If Hamas accepts Israel's conditions, recognizes it and stops violence, Israel will have no problem talking with Hamas and reaching an agreement with it," Sheetrit said.
Welch, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, met today with Acting Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Mofaz and Foreign Minister Livny. Mofaz asked Welch not to fall for the sweet-talk of Hamas leader Ismail Haniye. "Hamas is trying to mislead the international community," Mofaz said. "The simple fact is that Hamas has not accepted even one of the conditions laid down by the international community and Israel."
Both the U.S. and European Union continue to list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Senior Hamas official Dr. Nizar Rian himself said at a Hamas rally in northern Gaza Friday, "The fact we engage in political negotiations does not imply we are not busy in preparations for the Palestinians' resistance against the crimes of the occupation…"
Dr. Yossi Beilin, chairman of the far-left Meretz-Yahad party, also met with Erekat on Friday. Erekat suggested to Beilin that permanent-status talks be held between Israel and the PA following the upcoming Israeli elections, after which the results would be brought before PA residents in a referendum. After the meeting, Beilin said that he "estimates" that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would resign after the Israeli elections if Israel shows no willingness to further compromise its position. “So, those who do not want negotiations with Abbas will get a Hamas representative such as Khaled Mashaal or Mahmoud al-Zahar heading the PA,” Beilin threatened.
The Olmert government, all the while, continues to allow PA Arabs from Gaza to enter Israel's pre-1967 borders, despite earlier promises to close the borders and a specific recommendation by Israel's security establishment last week.
At least 5,000 Gazan Arabs entered Israel during a single opening of the Erez Crossing last Thursday.