U.S. Calls Rollout Of Palestinian Government Disappointing

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 8:56 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration found little good to say Saturday about a Palestinian coalition government that falls short of Western demands and complicates U.S. plans to revive long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said part of the platform announced Saturday is disturbing, and he called Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's introductory speech disappointing.

Islamic Hamas militants will govern alongside a secular, Western-backed Palestinian president whose standing seemed to be weakened by terms of the government announced Saturday. The terms do not fully satisfy requirements imposed by international donors and would-be peacemakers that Palestinian leaders renounce violence, accept Israel's right to exist and abide by previous agreements the Palestinians made with Israel and others.

The blended government is a marriage of convenience meant to end a Western aid boycott in place since shortly after the militants won a surprise victory in legislative elections last year. But although its platform and makeup are more moderate than the hardline Hamas would draw on its own, it contains an implicit endorsement of terrorism.

``The ... reference to 'right of resistance' is disturbing and contradicts directly the quartet principle of renunciation of violence,'' McCormack said, referring to the international peacemaking coalition of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

A rollout speech that Haniyeh delivered to the Palestinian Legislative Council ``was disappointing and inconsistent with the quartet principles, as well as a missed opportunity'' to affirm the new government's commitment to peace, McCormack said.

Israeli officials went further, saying the platform ``thumbs its nose'' at the international demands.

``This is a great disappointment and a severe blow to peace,'' said Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador in Washington. ``Not only does this government call for continued terror attacks against Israel, it arms the extremists with veto power over any future agreements, with the intention of slamming the door on future prospects for peace.''

The announcement frustrates U.S. hopes for a clean slate with the Palestinians after more than a year of uncertainty and delay since the Hamas election, but preserves the status quo for contact with Palestinian officials. McCormack said the United States will continue to deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has pledged to seek peace with Israel, and will continue to refuse dealings with Hamas officials. Contact with others will be evaluated case by case, McCormack said.

Abbas, a moderate, focused on conciliatory language, asserting that the Palestinian people ``reject violence in all its forms'' and seek a comprehensive ``peace of freedom and equality'' that would be based on negotiations.

The alliance preserves Abbas' role as negotiator for any future deals, even as its platform allows for a popular referendum that would presumably be carried out under rules approved by Hamas.