Israel changes stance on Hamas
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz tells U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Israel would not interfere with Palestinian elections even if Hamas participates, backing off earlier threats
New attitude: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says Israel would not interfere with Palestinian elections even if Hamas candidates run for office, backing off earlier threats made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington, Mofaz articulated Israel’s new position, but made it clear that Jerusalem still expects the Palestinian Authority to start disarming the terror group even before the elections. The defense minister added that in any case, Israel would not be talking to elected Hamas members.
Israel and the U.S. currently see eye to eye on the issue of disarming terror groups. Speaking in Los Angeles, National Security Advisor Steve Hadley said America made it clear to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, particularly after the Hadera terror attack, that he must take immediate action against the Islamic Jihad. U.S. officials say Abbas is now facing intensive pressure from all international Quartet members to start acting.
Meanwhile, Rice asked Mofaz to reopen Gaza Strip border crossings and to take steps that would ease the lives of Palestinian civilians. The defense minister promised to act on this front, in accordance security needs.
Syria and Iran were also widely addressed during the session. After the meeting, Mofaz, who was born in Iran, told reporters a resident of his city wants to destroy Israel, referring to remarks by Iran’s president, who called to wipe Israel off the map.
On another front, the U.S. has already decided on the replacement for General William Ward, who is finishing his role as the Administration’s envoy tasked with reforming Palestinian security forces. The U.S. government is expected to officially name the replacement in the middle of the month. Meanwhile, Ward has made it clear to officials in Washington that the Palestinian Authority has the ability to address terror groups if it so desires.