JERUSALEM – Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel would maintain contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and cooperate with the Palestinian Authority as long as the militant group Hamas has not formed a government.
The remarks were a step back from earlier threats to cut all ties with the Palestinians, and they came a day after the Israeli government approved the transfer of more than $53 million of taxes and customs duties collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israel froze the transfer, usually made monthly, after Hamas won a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections Jan. 25.
“We have no interest in hurting the head of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen,” Olmert said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. “As long as he does not cooperate with Hamas, and as long as the Palestinian government is not a Hamas government, we will cooperate with the Palestinian Authority cautiously and responsibly.”
The Haaretz daily reported Monday that Abbas had told Israeli officials through emissaries that as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he would continue to be responsible for diplomatic contacts with Israel, and that he was working to maintain control of the Palestinian security forces and finances.
Abbas requested that Israel continue a dialogue with him despite the Hamas victory in elections, and Olmert responded that Israel would maintain the contacts for now, the newspaper reported.
The Israeli policy for the interim period is in tandem with the posture adopted last week by representatives of the so-called quartet of Middle East mediators, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. The quartet made no immediate move to suspend badly needed aid to the Palestinian Authority, but it cautioned that future assistance would be reviewed against the Palestinian government’s commitment to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements.
Hamas officials have said they will not recognize Israel or renounce what they call the right of resistance to Israeli occupation, and that previous agreements will be respected if they conform with the Palestinian national interest and rights.