The international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East late Monday pressed the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept its road map to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The four parties, meeting in London, warned that crucial aid to the Palestinian authority will be in jeopardy if such commitments are not made.
The Quartet members, the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. did not make an outright threat to sever aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government.
But they did say it is "inevitable" that decisions on future aid to the Palestinian Authority will be based on its commitment to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Quartet road map to a two-state solution of the Mideast conflict.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan read a statement on behalf of the Quartet following a nearly three-hour meeting at a London hotel, saying the four powers have expectations of both Israel and the Palestinians in the aftermath of the elections that gave Hamas a surprise majority on the new Palestinian Legislative Council.
"The Quartet calls upon the newly elected P.L.C. to support the formation of a government committed to these principles as well as the rule of law, tolerance, reform and sound fiscal management. Both parties are reminded of their obligations under the road map to avoid unilateral actions, which prejudice (relate to) final-status issues," he said.
The Quartet made clear that international aid already committed should continue to flow to the caretaker Palestinian government, which is expected to run the authority for as long as three months, until a new and presumably Hamas-led government is seated.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Quartet has "deep concern" for the well-being of the Palestinian people and wants to see their humanitarian need met. She said the sole way to achieve this is the formation of a government that pursues peace: "There are set of obligations that have been taken by Palestinian leaders over more than a decade, and those obligations are noted here. It is incumbent now on all to insist that any future Palestinian government will indeed live up to those obligations, and that is what we have done here today," she said.
The Quartet renewed its call on Israel to halt settlement expansion, reiterated its concern about the route of Israel's security barrier in the West Bank, and also urged the sides to respect existing agreements on movement and access in the Palestinian areas.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who monitored the Palestinian elections and briefed the Quartet on the conduct of the vote, told reporters he is concerned about the prospect of violence if Israel tries to prevent Hamas members from transiting from Gaza to the West Bank, or within the West Bank to Ramallah, to join in negotiations on a government:
"If they are not permitted to form a government, that's a crisis that I fear might cause some serious problems, because I would guess that Palestinians from all parties would consider it to be an insult if, after they go through this beautiful democratic election, that their chosen officials, whether they supported them or not, can't even move around within their own territory," he said.
A senior Bush administration official who briefed reporters called the Quartet statement quite tough under the circumstances, given that it reflected the aggregate view of more than 20 countries.
The United States has for a number of years listed Hamas as a terrorist organization and forbids assistance to governments listed as supporters of terrorism.
The United States has budgeted more than $230 million in aid to the Palestinians this year. The senior official said some aid could still be delivered through humanitarian programs, but that direct aid to a Hamas-run government was not an option.