WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is poised to lift its economic and
diplomatic embargo against the Palestinian government in the West Bank now that
a US-backed moderate has evicted Islamic radicals from governance.
Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice is expected to announce the new US stance early this week, a senior US
official said Sunday. That announcement will coincide with a visit by Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is holding high-level talks in Washington
Ehud Olmert, left, Prime Minister of Israel with Israeli
Ambassador to Washington Sallai Meridor, right, as he addressed members of
the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations at the Regency
Hotel in New York Sunday, June 17, 2007. [AP]
The White House declined to comment Sunday, but Jacob Walles, the US
consul-general in Jerusalem, said Saturday that the international aid embargo
imposed after Hamas won parliamentary elections last year will no longer apply
to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' government, and that he expected it to
be lifted this week.
The US move essentially would reset US policy to the days before the Islamic
militant group Hamas swept legislative elections in early 2006 and upended US
and international peacemaking. The United States, Israel and the European Union
regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week, however, essentially
split the Palestinian government. Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right
to exist, now runs Gaza, home to an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians. Abbas
and his secular Fatah Party now run the West Bank. The West Bank, although much
larger, also is home to estimated 1.5 million Palestinians.
That move cleared the way for the United States to resume direct aid payments
to the Palestinian government, something it has refused to do so long as Hamas
was a part of the government and could benefit from US aid.
Five years ago, President Bush called for a separate, independent Palestine
alongside Israel. He was the first US president to back that notion so fully and
publicly. But his administration has taken heavy criticism for letting the peace
process drift while conditions worsened for the impoverished Palestinians.
"I think there was a need and a recognition to support Abbas several years
ago when there was more of a chance that he could succeed as a moderate leader,
and we didn't provide that kind of effort - there was not, I think, a consistent
plan to do that," Sen. Jack Reed , D-R.I., a member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "And today, he (Abbas) finds
himself overwhelmed in Gaza by Hamas."
Gaza was long the seat of power for Hamas while the West Bank is a stronghold
for Fatah, the party of former Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat.
Some in the United States and in Europe have advocated a policy dubbed the
"West Bank first" in which the West Bank would stand as an example of what a
future Palestinian state could be. Critics on the other side say that leaves
Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip without international aid. Europeans
oppose this idea, and others worry it would leave the Gaza Strip open to funding
and influence from Iran and Syria.