February 16, 2007

US To PA: No Sale

The latest attempt to end the sanctions that have crippled the Palestinian Authority appear to have failed. The White House informed Mahmoud Abbas that all Palestinian Authority Cabinet ministers would have persona non grata status until the new unity government complies with the Quartet demands to recognize Israel and reject violence:

American officials have told the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that they will boycott all ministers in a new coalition cabinet unless the government meets international conditions, including recognition of Israel, Palestinian officials said yesterday.

The warning indicates the extent of Washington's unease at the agreement reached in Mecca last week between the rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah. It comes just before a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday between the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Mr Abbas.

The boycott means that any Fatah leaders who join the new government will be shunned by US officials, and suggests that Monday's meeting is unlikely to produce a breakthrough.

However, the US will continue to talk to Mr Abbas and his office, Palestinian officials said. An official told Reuters: "The Americans have informed us that they will be boycotting the new government headed by Hamas. Fatah and independent ministers will be treated the same way Hamas ministers are treated."

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator who met US officials last week to prepare for Monday's meeting, said: "The Americans reiterated the position that their relations with the government will depend on the government's compliance with the Quartet's principles."

Congratulations to the White House, which could have bent to European instincts and attempted to cough up some money to endorse the Mecca accord. Too often, people try to cheer agreements for the sake of agreements without looking closely enough at the context and the details. Certainly, the Bush administration has felt that pressure.

And the context and details of Mecca show that the unity government is no progress at all. It's questionable whether it will even end the civil war in the territories, but there is no doubt that it utterly fails to address the Israeli security concerns that halted aid to the PA in the first place. Hamas refused to make that commitment, which was at the heart of the Quartet's objection to the previous Hamas government. Slapping a coat of Unity Paint on that arrangement makes no difference to Israeli security, and in the long run no difference to Palestinian security, either.

The US needs to remain tough on the Palestinians on this issue. If they will not accept a two-state solution, then they should receive no aid from the US. The White House made the right decision on keeping the diplomatic channels open with Abbas, but we should also halt the $83 million for his personal security services until the PA as a whole accepts Israel as a neighbor and a partner for peace.

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