Olmert's West Bank Plan May Get US Support
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is preferable, but given Hamas' refusal to negotiate, the U.S. might back a unilateral Israeli pullout from the West Bank. It depends on what the plan is, she said.
International support is key to Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally establish the borders of Israel within four years, if peace talks with the Palestinians fail, as they're expected to do.
Olmert's Kadima party won more parliamentary seats than any other party in Tuesday's general election and is expected to form the next government.
Olmert, who became acting prime minister when Ariel Sharon had a stroke in January, received congratulatory phone calls from President Bush and other world leaders as well as an invitation to Washington as soon as he forms a government.
"Of course everyone would like to see a negotiated solution. That's what the roadmap [peace plan] is all about," Rice told reporters on Thursday.
Rice noted that the U.S. and international community backed Israel's disengagement plan last summer, when Israel uprooted 21 Jewish communities from the Gaza Strip and four from the northern West Bank.
At the time, the international community expressed hope that the disengagement would lead the way back to the road map peace plan and a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But it never happened.
Rice said U.S. support for additional pullouts from the West Bank would depend on what the plan is -- and so far, that plan has not been outlined. "We haven't had a chance to talk with them about what they have in mind," she said.
Olmert has said he is ready to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the road map plan, but he will not give them much time to comply with international demands that the Hamas-led government recognize Israel, abandon terrorism and abide by previous understandings between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the absence of a Palestinian partner, Olmert wants to complete Israel's security barrier; strengthen several large settlement blocs on the Israeli side; and uproot isolated Jewish communities on the Palestinian side of the barrier.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas officials and the Arab League have expressed their opposition to unilateral moves on Israel's part.
Abbas said he is ready to negotiate a final settlement with Israel but he wants to skip the first phase of the road map, which includes dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, and cut to final status issues.
Rice said the U.S. would still have contacts with Abbas but that it would be hard for Israel to negotiate with the new Palestinian government, which is led by Hamas.
Hamas has said it will continue to use violence; it refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Canada became the first country to officially sever ties with the new Palestinian government on Wednesday after Hamas officials were sworn in to their new government posts.
During the ceremony, parliamentarians chanted, "Allah is our goal. The Koran is our constitution. The Prophet Mohammed is our model. Jihad is our path. Death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration."
Canada said it would have no contact with members of the Hamas cabinet and announced it was suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority because it had not met the international demands of recognizing Israel, denouncing terrorism and abiding by earlier Palestinian-Israeli agreements.
P.A. Information Minister Yussef Rizqa said he regretted the Canadian decision. It would have been better for the Canadian government to meet with Hamas ministers "to discuss and study its program and listen to its point of view," he said.
Rice said the U.S. is still reviewing its assistance programs to the Palestinians.
"The principle is very clear: We're not going to...provide funding to a Hamas-led government, but we are going to see what we can do to increase humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and what mechanisms we can use...to make certain that the money is not indeed supporting the Hamas-led government," Rice said.
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