Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visits the northern West Bank village of Al-Jalameh Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. Fayyad on Sunday angrily denounced the U.S. veto of a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s West Bank settlements and offered to form a unity government with the rival Hamas militant group. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)
JENIN, West Bank, Feb. 20 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – The Palestinian prime minister on Sunday angrily denounced the U.S. veto of a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s West Bank settlements and offered to form a unity government with the rival Hamas militant group.
The comments reflected the Palestinians’ frustration over U.S.-led peace efforts, which have made little headway during President Barack Obama’s term in office.
During a trip to this West Bank town, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad urged the Americans to “reconsider their approach” after vetoing a Security Council resolution that would have declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to be illegal. The measure was supported by the council’s 14 other members.
“The Americans have chosen to be alone in disrupting the internationally backed Palestinian efforts,” Fayyad said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Palestinians, along with the international community, say Israeli settlements on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians are illegal. At Friday’s Security Council meeting, the U.S. said it agreed with this position, but did not believe the United Nations is the appropriate place to resolve the dispute.
Palestinian officials quoted Obama as telling them that if he had gone forward with the measure, Israel’s supporters in Congress had threatened to withhold financial aid to the Palestinians.
“I found this offensive,” Fayyad said. “We are not willing to compromise our national enterprise for a fistful of dollars, however big or small.”
The Palestinians receive more than $200 million a year in direct financial assistance from the U.S., making Washington the largest individual donor to Fayyad’s government.
U.S.-backed peace talks broke down in late September, just three weeks after their launch, after a limited Israeli freeze on settlement construction ended. The Palestinians have refused to talk if Israel continues to build homes for Jews on the land the Palestinians seek for their future state, calling it a sign of bad faith.
With peace talks stalled and calls for democracy rising throughout the Middle East, Fayyad’s boss, President Mahmoud Abbas, said this month he would hold overdue general elections in September.
But the Hamas militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, the other territory claimed by the Palestinians, has said it would boycott the vote unless there is reconciliation first. Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006, and a year later violently routed Abbas’ forces and seized full control of Gaza.
Abbas has since appeared to backpedal, saying elections could not be held without Gaza.
Seeking to resolve the deadlock, Fayyad proposed forming a unity government with Hamas in order to hold the election on time.
The details of Fayyad’s plan appeared vague but proposed leaving much of the status quo in place. He said Hamas could retain security control in Gaza under his proposal as long as it preserved a cease-fire with Israel. Fayyad would continue to govern from the West Bank, and would work with Hamas to place both territories under a single governing authority.
“The split has been too long and should not continue, and it won’t end by itself. We need to move to end the split,” Fayyad said.
Fayyad refused to say who might lead the unity government, saying this would have to be worked out in negotiations. He said that as long as Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel, agrees to maintain calm, all other issues could be resolved.
In Gaza, Hamas officials refused to comment, saying they needed more details on Fayyad’s plan.
Any unity government would likely end any hopes of reviving Mideast peace talks. Israel and the international community have said there will be no dealings with Hamas until it formally renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Palestinian officials in the West Bank appear willing to take this risk, saying they have little faith the U.S. can revive negotiations in any case. (*)