Olmert expected to reduce ties with PA

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to approve Friday the defense establishment’s advice to begin taking steps to reduce Israel’s ties with the Palestinian Authority as of Sunday, the day after the Hamas-led Palestinian parliament takes office.

The suggested measures include freezing further transfers of the tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA; banning the entry of workers from the Gaza Strip into Israel and the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank; and preventing transfers of military equipment to the PA from foreign countries, such as donations of armored personnel carriers and communications gear. Other proposed steps include freezing plans to upgrade the crossing points between the territories and Israel as well as plans to build a port and airport in Gaza. The plan was presented to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Thursday and was to be presented to Olmert on Friday. MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) objected to the restrictive measures Friday, calling them „collective punishment.” According to the plan, Palestinian merchants would continue to be allowed into Israel, and the Erez and Karni crossings between Israel and Gaza would remain open. However, the defense establishment would begin preparations for turning these crossings into full-fledged borders, and removing Gaza from its joint customs envelope with Israel. In addition, the defense establishment plans to present proposals for further reductions in ties every week. However, Mofaz said that none of these steps should interfere with humanitarian activity by international organizations or with the supply of water, electricity or medical equipment. A team headed by the prime minister’s special adviser, Dov Weissglas, also presented its recommendations on how Israel should respond to Hamas’ electoral victory at Thursday’s meeting called by Mofaz. Weissglas proposed that Israel issue an ultimatum to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, demanding that he fulfill his promise to disarm the terrorist organizations and that the new PA government abjure violence, recognize Israel, and accept the road map peace plan and all signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The ultimatum would expire either after 60 days or upon occurrence of a „Hamas event,” such as the establishment of a Hamas-led government that did not accept the three conditions posed by Israel and the international community. Upon expiry of the ultimatum, Israel’s measures to cut ties with the PA would become more stringent. Major General Yosef Mishlav, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, told the meeting that Abbas has the power to insist that whoever he appoints to form the next PA government include these three conditions in the government guidelines. The heads of the intelligence agencies warned at the meeting of a „honey trap” in which Hamas would present a moderate front to lull the international community, while building up its forces for a violent confrontation with Israel. The defense establishment also warned that the defeated Fatah party was liable to take out its anger in the form of terror attacks against Israelis. All of these proposals and assessments, as well as an alternative proposal prepared by National Security Council Chairman Giora Eiland, will be presented to Olmert at a meeting Friday. Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy czar, urged Israel on Thursday to continue transferring tax money to the PA at least until the new government is formed. But Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responded that once the new Hamas-led parliament is sworn in, the PA has essentially become „a terrorist entity” even if the new government has not yet been formed.