1. Ministers were briefed on Palestinian affairs following the PA elections and determined policy in light of the swearing-in of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Acting Prime Minister Olmert made the following remarks:
"It is clear that in light of the Hamas majority in the PLC and the instructions to form a new government that were given to the head of Hamas, the PA is – in practice – becoming a terrorist authority. The State of Israel will not agree to this. Israel will not compromise with terrorism and will continue to fight it with full force. However, there is no intention of harming the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population. Israel will not hold contacts with the Administration in which Hamas plays any part – small, large, or permanent.
"From our point of view, the swearing-in of the PLC means that Hamas has – in effect – taken control of the PA. Israel views the rise of Hamas as a dangerous milestone that turns the PA into a terrorist authority. This new situation will influence the future of Israeli-PA relations and will begin a period in which ties with the PA are downgraded, unless Hamas fully accepts the principles that the international community has presented to it: recognition of the State of Israel and abrogation of the Hamas Covenant, the renunciation of terrorism and the dismantling of terrorist infrastructures (by adopting the Road Map and accepting its principles) and recognizing all understandings and agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
"It must be pointed out that the international community's point of reference is the day on which a Palestinian Government is formed. Until then, the international community will continue to see it as the main address, including that regarding the continued transfer of financial assistance. The US and the EU include Hamas on their lists of terrorist organizations and are refraining – at this stage – from any contacts with it. We will continue to demand that the PA fully honour the three conditions that the international community has set before it.
"Until this happens, we will take a series of steps, some of which we will decide on today. In any case, Israel has no intention of bringing about the collapse of civil frameworks and creating a humanitarian crisis in the PA. Israel will continue to act determinedly against terrorism and against terrorists. The new situation, in which Hamas members have been elected to the PLC, does not change this."
The Cabinet decided as follows:
It is decided that, upon the swearing-in of the Hamas-dominated PLC yesterday (Saturday, 18 February 2006) and upon the upcoming conclusion of the PA transitional Government, the PA will become a terrorist authority unless Hamas, which controls the PA, fully accepts the following threshold conditions as determined by Israel and approved by the Quartet:
i. Upon the conclusion of the transitional Government, no funds will be transferred from Israel to the PA;
ii. Israel will appeal to the international community so that, upon the formation of the transitional Government, the international community will refrain from all financial assistance to the PA except for humanitarian aid given directly to the Palestinian population;
iii. Transfers of means and assistance to the Palestinian security services will be prevented;
iv. The movement of VIPs connected to Hamas, including members of the PLC, will continue to be restricted in all areas under Israeli control;
v. Given the heightened security risks, security checks at crossings – especially Karni and Erez – will be increased, regarding both people and goods. Activities to upgrade the Gaza Strip crossings will continue in order to enable more effective security oversight.
B. All measures necessary to thwart acts of terrorism against Israel will continue both in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip; construction of the security fence will be accelerated.
Throughout years of uprising and Israeli military actions, siege of West Bank cities and President Arafat’s de facto house arrest, it was hard to imagine the situation getting worse for Palestinians. It has. On all fronts – Palestinian/Palestinian, Palestinian/Israeli and Palestinian/international – prevailing dynamics are leading to a dangerous breakdown. Subjected to the cumulative effects of a military occupation in its 40th year and now what is effectively an international sanctions regime, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) Government cannot pay salaries or deliver basic services. Diplomacy is frozen, with scant prospect of thaw – and none at all of breakthrough. And Hamas’s electoral victory and the reactions it provoked among Fatah loyalists have intensified chaos and brought the nation near civil war. There is an urgent need for all relevant players to pragmatically reassess their positions, with the immediate objectives of:
In this increasingly bloody power struggle, both camps (as well as the myriad camps within camps) are mobilizing armed militias, stockpiling weapons, resorting to killings and spreading bedlam. The latest move was political. Mahmoud Abbas, PA President, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee and Fatah Deputy Chairman, on 25 May 2006 threatened that if Hamas did not accept within 10 days a proposal signed by a number of Israel’s most prominent Palestinian detainees – the Prisoners’ Initiative – which implicitly endorses a negotiated two-State solution, he would submit it to a popular referendum. Making good on his ultimatum after a short extension, he issued a presidential decree on 10 June calling for a referendum on 26 July.
The result has been an increasingly bitter, and perilously violent, relationship, bringing the Palestinians to the brink of internecine conflict. The National Dialogue that was launched in late May to forge a political consensus appears to be as much about partisan posturing as about strategic compromise. While Abbas understandably is averse to interminable negotiations, his determination to hold a referendum opposed by Hamas carries a serious risk of further polarization and violence – the very outcome that, by seeking to bring the Islamists into the political arena, he had tried to avoid. Today, the situation is but one tragic step – the assassination of a senior Fatah or Hamas leader, for example – from all-out chaos.
Faced with the intensifying inter-Palestinian struggle, the calculus of the Quartet – the US, EU, Russian Federation and the UN, which have been in charge of the disappearing peace process – and other outside actors has been simple: pressure the Government, count on popular dissatisfaction with its (non-) performance and find ways to strengthen Abbas and ensure the Hamas experience in power comes to a rapid and unsuccessful end. The approach comes in different variants, from the more confrontational (seeking to subvert the Hamas-led Government through political and economic isolation), to the more subtle (hoping to circumvent the Government through Abbas’ empowerment). Yet in both cases outside actors, by openly bolstering one faction against the other, exacerbate internal strife.
Of late, limited signs of pragmatism have come from Washington regarding the need to prevent collapse within the occupied territories. However, the US still appears reluctant to endorse a European proposal to fund priority social sectors while bypassing the Government or at least wishes to postpone implementation of such a mechanism until after a referendum is held and the political context altered. The tightness of the grip aside, all, including Israel and even Arab States, appear convinced that squeezing the Government unless it meets the Quartet’s three demands (recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of past agreements) is the best way to end its tenure and accelerate the restoration of its more pragmatic predecessors.
There are important elements of Hamas’s ideology and charter, including its refusal to recognize Israel and the call for its destruction, that are incompatible with the international community’s principles for a resolution of this conflict as well as the views of most Palestinians; pressure certainly needs to be brought upon it to change these. Without this necessary evolution, it cannot expect international recognition, nor can the Government it leads expect genuine international support. But the approaches currently being applied or contemplated – to deprive it of resources, isolate or bypass it, force a referendum, or even stage early elections – suffer from the same fundamental flaws: the absence of a day-after strategy and an almost total disregard for Hamas’s very recent democratic mandate as well as the longer-term consequences of short-term success.
Feeling cheated of its right to govern, Hamas would be unlikely to go quietly. Having reached the conclusion that its experiment in the mainstream has failed and political integration is no longer a viable option, and with its back against the wall, Hamas almost certainly would revert to internal violence or violence targeting Israel, causing maximum chaos, possibly bringing down the PA and allowing the Islamists to re-emerge as a resistance movement. The recent mutual escalation of violence with Israel shows how perilous this situation quickly can become. Nor should one expect poverty and despair to encourage the Palestinians towards greater moderation; those are the very conditions that helped propel Hamas to power in the first place, and it is difficult to imagine how they could assist Fatah in the near future. Regionally as well, the engineered failure of the first elected Sunni Islamist Government could have unwelcome repercussions, buttressing jihadi Islamists at the expense of their more political counterparts.
Starved of resources, confronting an increasingly hostile population and unable to realize its agenda, Hamas may well fail. But with widespread violence, chaos and a collapse in Palestinian institutions, it quickly would become hard to chalk up its failure as anybody’s success. Instead, what is required today is a more sophisticated, nuanced approach, pursuing the priority objectives described above with the specific policies summarized below.
To the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and Palestinian National Resistance Movement (Fatah):
1. Reach and implement agreement on the composition and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), including the integration of Hamas and recognition of the PLO’s responsibility for political negotiations with Israel.
2. Form, with the participation of other Palestinian political movements and independents as appropriate, a national coalition government whose programme includes: endorsement of the 2002 Arab League’s Beirut Initiative and/or the 2006 Prisoners’ Initiative; designation of the PLO as responsible for political negotiations with Israel; ratification by national institutions and/or a national referendum of any agreement reached with Israel; and recognition of existing Palestinian commitments.
3. Reactivate the National Security Council, under the Palestinian president and including the prime minister, interior minister and heads of security agencies, to ensure the coordination of all security agencies and phased integration or demobilization of all militias.
To the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas):
4. Reinstate the truce and extend it for the duration of the current Government’s lifespan and declare a permanent moratorium on attacks against civilian targets, to enable Egypt and other mediators to achieve a reciprocal and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cessation of hostilities.
To the Government of Israel:
5. Cease offensive operations, particularly assassinations and incursions, which cannot be justified by imminent military necessity, refraining in particular from unprovoked acts of escalation and operations that harm civilians and damage civilian installations, and support third-party efforts to achieve a reciprocal and comprehensive cessation of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
6. Release all Palestinians in Israeli detention who have not been charged with an offence and respond to Palestinian initiatives to maintain quiet with timely and substantive prisoner releases.
7. Channel all withheld tax revenues to the Temporary International Mechanism proposed by the EU and maintain utility supplies and banking services for the Palestinian population.
To the members of the diplomatic Quartet (US, EU, Russian Federation, UN):
8. Subject to the PA abiding by existing Palestinian commitments and Hamas reinstating a truce, assign a UN-appointed mediator as its representative for contacts with the PLO, PA, Hamas and other Palestinian organizations to obtain commitments from the PA Government on the following matters:
(a) Support for a reciprocal and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cessation of hostilities;
(b) Recognition of applicable UN resolutions and the 2002 Arab League Beirut Initiative as the terms of reference for an Israeli-Palestinian political settlement;
(c) Approval of contacts between Israeli and Palestinian counterparts to improve delivery of services and mutual security, and on other matters of common interest.
9. Ensure that Israel fulfils its humanitarian obligations under international law towards the civilian population of the occupied Palestinian territories, specifically by:
(a) Providing unrestricted access to humanitarian agencies operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that have been certified as such by the UN mediator;
(b) Halting restrictions on the free movement of persons, goods and services within, between, to and from the occupied territories that cannot be justified by legitimate security interests.
10. Issue a declaration that, while any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory is welcome, it will not recognize boundaries situated within occupied territory established through unilateral measures nor the legitimacy of any settlements established in contravention of international law.
11. Present at an appropriate time a more detailed vision of a viable final status agreement.
To the European Union and its member States:
12. Subject to agreement between the UN mediator and the Palestinian Government as described above:
(a) Suspend the prohibition on contacts with the PA Government and Hamas leadership to expedite discussions on core EU concerns relating to the Government’s political programme, donor relations, the demobilization and integration of armed factions and terms for the removal of Hamas from the EU blacklist of terrorist organizations;
(b) Restore 2005 levels and forms of donor support to the PA, including budgetary support.
13. In the absence of agreement between the UN mediator and the Palestinian Government as described above, and subject to the PA Government abiding by existing agreements and Hamas reinstating a truce:
(a) Expand the proposed Temporary International Mechanism in order to fund basic services in the occupied territories, including PA personnel, recurrent and where necessary other costs, without distinction between civilian and security sectors, and wherever practicable through direct disbursements to personnel, suppliers, and contractors;
(b) Modify the proposed Temporary International Mechanism so that UN agencies and the World Bank rather than the PA presidency serve as intermediaries between donors and the PA Administration, and proceed with implementation without additional delay.
To the Government of the United States:
14. Refrain from threats against Palestinian political organizations and individual politicians that obstruct inter-Palestinian dialogue and the formation of a PA coalition Government.
15. Revise the Office of Foreign Assets Control directives with respect to Hamas to state specifically that the standing exemption from penalty for dealing with a proscribed organization provided to select international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, will apply to third parties, such as banks and other institutions and entities, implementing programmes for or handling funds received on behalf of those international organizations.
To the Chairman of the Arab League and member States:
16. Engage with the PA Government and Hamas leadership to seek endorsement of the Arab League’s Beirut Initiative.
The conference was attended by 35 countries, more than 10 UN agencies, the EC, the Red Cross Movement and a number of international organizations, making the conference truly global.
During the conference, the Office of the Palestinian President and the United Nations presented assessments of the most immediate needs and policy concerns in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In Gaza in particular, some 1.4 million people, half of them children, live under extremely difficult conditions as a result of the current closure regime, military operations and violence, virtually no payments of civil servant salaries, rampant unemployment, reduced electricity and water supply. The conference also agreed that the international community should address the grave environmental situation at the Gaza Strip without delay.
The conference recognized that the difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza is man-made and caused by continued conflict, violence and occupation. Several delegations stressed the need for both parties of the conflict to respect international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, and to ensure the protection of civilians. In this context it is important to emphasize that a negotiated settlement of the conflict, based upon the demands of the Quartet, the road map and international law, is the single most important factor for an improvement of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The conference reiterated that unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance to the affected population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is an obligation under international humanitarian law and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The participants further noted that the right to receive humanitarian assistance is a fundamental humanitarian principle, which should be enjoyed by all who are in need.
The need for rehabilitation and reinvigoration of the Palestinian economy was stressed, and particularly the need to ease the movement and access restrictions imposed on the civilian population.
There is an urgent need to ensure free access and movement for relief and recovery operations into and out of Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The most pressing need currently is the restoration of civilian infrastructure, including for electricity, water and sanitation. Other areas of great concern are health, agriculture and education for Palestinian children.
The conference noted the complementary aspects of the UN Consolidated Appeals Process and the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) as important multilateral instruments to deal with the current situation. The meeting commended the progress reported by the EC in implementing the TIM and stressed the need to fully implement the mechanism. Reaffirming the principles agreed upon by the Quartet, the meeting underscored the importance of maintaining effective structures within the Palestinian Authority to provide for the Palestinian people. A further deterioration of the Authority's institutional capacity risks causing severe long-term effects on the Palestinian society.
Many delegates stressed the importance that Israel release the Palestinian VAT and tax funds of approximately $500 million without delay. This would meet the most urgent Palestinian needs.
The financial, economic and political requirements for early recovery and reconstruction were discussed, and the delegations stressed the need for flexible funding in this regard. Even in this respect the issue of access was raised as a major concern.
This conference resulted in a total amount pledged in the order of $200 million. Approximately $110 million was announced to meet humanitarian needs and of that amount $55 million covers the request of the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP). This means that the coverage of the CAP has increased from 43 per cent to 58 per cent. In addition to this, Saudi Arabia also pledged $250 million. Most of the assistance to the Palestinian Territories will at this point of time be directed to meet the humanitarian needs.
The war in Lebanon has confirmed once again that force not only fails to solve existing problems, but also delays progress towards a lasting and just peace in the region. A serious new impetus for resumption of the peace process on all tracks is needed based on a comprehensive settlement. Concrete steps of a humanitarian character would be helpful in creating necessary conditions for that – in the first place the release of Israeli war prisoners and Palestinian and Lebanese detainees.
Despite all the difficulties, however, the situation is not hopeless.
As before, we regard the Palestine-Israel conflict as pivotal to the region's destinies. It is obvious that its unsettledness remains a breeding ground for extremism and the origination of ever new hot spots in the Middle East, and not only there.
There are opportunities to find a political solution between Israel and the PNA, and it is necessary to take advantage of them. Especially as the basis for action in this direction is well known: the Road Map, adopted by both parties in conflict, and the Quartet must play the leading role.
Yesterday, the Quartet made a decision to reinvigorate contacts between the Special Representatives and Quartet ministers with Israel, the Palestinians and leading Arab countries.
We also welcomed Kofi Annan's initiative in returning James Wolfensohn to his Middle East team. The serious experience that he has will help solve the economic and social problems of the Palestinians, we believe.
We are convinced that it is necessary to continue providing vigorous support to Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to establish a government of national unity on a platform that would move towards the principles of the Quartet. It was also important to make clear to the Palestinians the links between their steps towards Israel and movement towards a settlement.
Hopefully, the international community will support the PNA Head as Palestinian leader, particularly by providing economic support to the Palestinians and releasing their sources of financing. This, in view of the extremely grave humanitarian situation in the PNA territories, is now extremely important.
Regarding the Lebanese track, things there go, on the whole, in the right direction. Although the situation remains fragile, the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) is continuing, and it has to be fulfilled in full. This is only possible if all Lebanese political forces are involved, including Hezbollah. We note the lifting of Israel's air and sea blockade of Lebanon as an important step. We welcome the deployment of units of the regular Lebanese army and the continued deployment of the strengthened United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon contingent in the south of Lebanon. It is important that the evacuation of the Israeli army should be completed soon, as planned.
We are very concerned over the humanitarian situation in Lebanon. We will provide assistance to Lebanon by sending engineer-sapper units of the Russian army to restore the country's infrastructure. Preparation for their dispatch to the region has already begun.
The Syrian track, in a frozen state for a long time now, must also be resuscitated. Our contacts with the Syrian leadership gave the impression that Damascus is sincerely interested in establishing firm peace in the region.
And lastly, I would like to stress that we view favourably the initiative of the League of Arab States to begin preparations for an international conference on the Middle East. By and large, the Russian Federation stood at its origins. President Putin spoke of this in 2005 during his visit to the region.
While it is not going to be easy to implement that initiative, it is necessary to embark on a collective search for a solution of one of today's most complicated problems as soon as possible.
In our view, the forum must be well-prepared and can't be reduced to a one-day exchange of statements. It should become the beginning of a negotiation process on all interrelated tracks in the Middle East.
Let us not forget that it was the Security Council that approved a series of resolutions which form the basis of a comprehensive Middle East settlement. It is our straightforward duty to facilitate the start of practical realization of this objective.
Only a political solution will serve the real interests of the two sides, and the only way to achieve a political solution is through negotiations.
We call upon the leadership of both sides to take practical steps to ensure the continuation of the cease-fire and its expansion to include the West Bank. Both sides must seek to bring about a significant improvement in the daily life of ordinary citizens, including their freedom of movement.
We urge all relevant parties to do their utmost in order to bring about the immediate release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as well as the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including ministers and members of the Legislative Council.
We expect from the leadership of both sides, in parallel to ensuring the tranquillity, to commence negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement. In order to ensure the success of the negotiations, both sides should agree in advance on the agenda for discussions and on the parameters of the future agreement.
We welcome the recommendations contained in the Iraq Study Group report and support the immediate opening of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians along the lines outlined in the report. We call upon the international community, and first and foremost on the members of the Quartet, to adopt the recommendations and work towards their implementation.
We reiterate that the goals of negotiations between the two sides must include the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders as stipulated by the Arab Peace Initiative, President Bush’s vision and the Geneva Initiative.
The two leaders agreed that the Israeli and Palestinian peoples had suffered enough and that the time had come to advance the peace process via concrete steps and to refrain from taking any measures that could predetermine the number of issues that would be resolved in negotiations. The two leaders believe that this meeting was a first step towards rebuilding the sides’ confidence and in establishing a fruitful partnership.
The two leaders emphasized the importance of direct and serious contact between them and decided to meet frequently, thus continuing the ongoing link between them, in order to advance current issues on the agenda.
Prime Minister Olmert expressed his concern over the continued firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip and said that Israel could not show restraint for long if the violations of the ceasefire continued. The two leaders agreed to reconsider expanding the ceasefire to the West Bank, in keeping with the February 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh Understandings.
They agreed to immediately resume the joint committees, as they were determined prior to Sharm el-Sheikh, under the authority of the Palestinian Authority President in order to deal with current issues: maintaining the cessation of violence; advancing the future transfer of security responsibility over the Palestinian areas; and implementation of the arrangements that were previously agreed upon regarding Palestinian fugitives and deportees.
It was also decided to resume the work of the quadripartite security committee between Israel, the PA (via the Presidential Guard), Egypt and the US, including the deployment of the Presidential Guard along the Philadelphi Corridor and in the northern Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Olmert told PA President Abbas that he understood his and Palestinian society’s sensitivity on the prisoner issue and said that he would be prepared to release to the PA President after the release of Gilad Shalit. It was also decided to resume the work of the joint community responsible for formulating new arrangements and parameters on the release of Palestinian prisoners. This committee will begin work immediately and will submit its conclusions to the two leaders as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Olmert said that Israel would take immediate and concrete steps in order to ease humanitarian conditions for the Palestinian people. To this end, the Prime Minister decided to transfer a portion of the Palestinian tax funds being held by Israel in order to enable supplies for – and assist in the current operations of – several Palestinian hospitals and in order to deal with the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population. It was agreed that this arrangement would be expanded in the future to deal with additional humanitarian needs. It was made clear that the funds that would be unfrozen would not be transferred to the PA.
The two men also agreed to make a genuine effort to upgrade the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel in order to facilitate better passage for goods and people. To this end, it was decided to improve security checks at these crossings in order to reach a target of 400 trucks a day between the Gaza Strip and Israel and to promote the possibilities of trade between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel. The two leaders said that they intended to resume the work of the joint economic committee. Prime Minister Olmert told PA President Abbas that, in coordination with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, he had instructed the IDF to remove several checkpoints and to submit a plan for the removal of additional checkpoints in the West Bank in order to facilitate easier passage for the Palestinian population that is not engaged in terrorism.