Tags: U.S. | Israel | Consider | Easing | Sanctions | Support | Abbas

U.S., Israel Consider Easing Sanctions to Support Abbas

Friday, 15 June 2007 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM -- The United States, European states and Israel are considering rapidly easing sanctions in the occupied West Bank to try to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Western and Israeli officials said on Friday.

A senior European Union diplomat involved in the discussions said Abbas "has strongly requested that we (the EU) support him fully... I think we would generally support this idea, in which form I cannot tell you."

A senior Israeli official said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush would discuss at a meeting next week a series of "gestures" that could be taken quickly, including the release to Abbas of a portion of the Palestinian Authority's tax revenues being withheld by Israel.

Western and Israeli officials said the goal would be to strengthen Abbas, his secular Fatah faction and other "moderates" in the West Bank, while isolating Hamas Islamists who seized control of the Gaza Strip in fierce fighting.

An economic and diplomatic embargo of the Hamas administration in Gaza would remain and tightened in some areas.

The officials said the U.S. strategy was based on the premise that strengthening Abbas, and reviving the peace process in the West Bank, would serve to marginalize Hamas and increase Fatah's chances of winning any future elections.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment.

Western donors led by the United States cut off direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in March 2006 after Hamas defeated Abbas's Fatah faction in parliamentary elections.

Coupled with Israel's withholding of tax revenues that it collects on the Palestinians' behalf -- the Authority's main domestic source of funding -- the sanctions have pushed the Hamas-led government to the brink of financial collapse.

"If there will be an emergency government without participation of Hamas, then the funds can flow," said a senior Israeli official involved in the internal deliberations. "From our point of view, there isn't a Hamas government any more."

Another senior Israeli official said Israel would go along with U.S. efforts to "throw full-fledged support behind (Abbas) and build him up in the West Bank".

David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said resuming aid to Abbas would show Palestinians that "there's a real contrast between the way Hamas rules in Gaza and Abbas's rules in the West Bank. Let them see that moderation pays."

But some Israeli officials said they were sceptical about a new peace push while Gaza was in Hamas hands. "There won't be any political progress in the West Bank alone. The Palestinians see themselves as one nation," the senior Israeli official said.

Israeli and Western officials said they could turn on the financial taps rapidly since Washington has already given a green light for donors to send funds to a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) account controlled by Salam Fayyad, expected to be prime minister in the emergency government.

"From our point of view, there is no problem for money to go to the PLO account if there isn't a Hamas government," a senior Israeli official involved in overseeing the embargo said.

A senior Western diplomat said: "The emergency government could work out of the PLO account for a start and the money would be controlled in the West Bank."

The Western diplomat said the biggest question would be whether the emergency government would pay salaries to government workers in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has signaled a willingness to transfer withheld tax revenues, but far less than the $700 million sought by Abbas.

© reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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JERUSALEM -- The United States, European states and Israel are considering rapidly easing sanctions in the occupied West Bank to try to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Western and Israeli officials said on Friday. A senior European Union diplomat involved in...
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2007-00-15
Friday, 15 June 2007 12:00 AM
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