- THE Israeli Government is lobbying the world not to lift the financial and diplomatic blockade of the occupied territories following last week's unity deal between the two main Palestinians faction.
The deal brokered by Saudi Arabia in the holy city of Mecca has halted - for the time being at least - bloody clashes between supporters of the rival Hamas and Fatah parties in which at least 90 people died in recent weeks.
But Israel says the new unity government to be formed under the deal will not meet the three conditions imposed on the Palestinians for an end to the blockade - recognition of Israel, renunciation of armed struggle and acceptance of all previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
Palestinians say the proposed Hamas-Fatah government would "respect" all previous agreements signed by the PLO, an umbrella group for Palestinians everywhere, which has previously recognised Israel's right to exist and renounced terrorism. But a senior adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said on Friday that "the issue of recognition was not addressed at all . .. In the platform of the new government there will be no sign of recognition [of Israel], regardless of the pressures the United States and the quartet [the group of would-be Middle East peacekeepers including the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations]."
Addressing a security conference in Munich the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzippi Livni, called on the West to "show determination and say clearly to the Palestinians that they must accept the three benchmarks".
"Don't give legitimacy to unclear and clever agreements. You must impose the conditions on the Palestinians, and the truth must be told; the world must reject vague formulas," she said.
Israeli newspapers reported yesterday that Fatah's signature on the agreement could endanger a planned three-way meeting next week between the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the leader of Fatah.
International reaction to the Saudi-sponsored deal has ranged from chilly silence on the part of the US, through guarded welcome from the EU and some European states, to acceptance by Russia, whose foreign ministry said the agreement should "be combined with lifting a blockade of the Palestinian territories, which has inflicted suffering and hardship on the people".
Israel and other countries have withheld about $US1.5 billion ($2 billion) in vital customs revenue and aid from the Palestinian Authority since Fatah's election defeat a year ago by Hamas, whose platform calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and which killed hundreds of Israelis in terrorist attacks before adopting a unilateral ceasefire two years ago.
The quartet is due to meet next week to try to agree on a joint response to the new initiative. The Israelis and Palestinians are already lobbying hard for support, with particular emphasis on wavering European states.