Israel Blocks Funds as Hamas Takes Power

Weekend Edition Sunday: February 19, 2006

Israel Blocks Funds as Hamas Takes Power

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Gaza today, the Islamist Hamas movement announced that it has nominated Ismail Haniya, a prominent Hamas leader, to be the Palestinian Prime Minister. The nomination comes a day after the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament was sworn in. The new Prime Minster will have three weeks to form a government.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli government announced it will halt the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority effective immediately. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Speaking at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that with Hamas' majority in parliament, the Palestinian authority has turned into what he called a terrorist authority.

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Acting Israeli Prime Minister): (Hebrew spoken)

GRADSTEIN: Israel will not compromise with terrorism, and will continue to fight against it, he said. At the same time, we have no intention of harming the humanitarian interest of the Palestinian people.

Olmert said Israel will immediately stop the transfer of all funds to the Palestinian Authority. This is the approximately 50 million dollars of taxes and custom revenues that Israel collects each month on behalf of the Palestinian authority and then transfers to them.

Israel also urged the international community to cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority that is not specifically humanitarian aid.

The Israeli decision is expected to make it more difficult for the Palestinian Authority to pay the monthly salaries of tens of thousands of government officials. Officials of the World Bank warned even before the Hamas election victory that the Palestinian authority is on the verge of a financial collapse.

Privately, Israeli officials say they are trying to walk a thin line between making the Palestinian people realize they made a mistake by electing a Hamas-led government, and causing real harm to the Palestinian people. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Ms. TZIPI LIVNI (Israeli Foreign Minister): (Foreign spoken)

GRADSTEIN: It can be assumed that their way of life will change, even though that is not Israel's goal, she said. But we are dealing with changes on the Palestinian side that we see as very problematic. The government of Israel will do whatever it needs to defend its citizens, and that will also affect the Palestinian authority.

Yesterday a new Palestinian parliament dominated by Hamas was sworn in. The ceremony was held in Ramalah, and Gaza was hooked up by video conference, since Israel does not allow Hamas members to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. More than a dozen of the new legislators, most of them from Hamas, are also serving time in Israeli jails.

In his speech, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urged Hamas to honor agreements the Palestinian Authority has signed with Israel. He also said that whoever wants to take part in the building of a National Palestinian Authority must commit to the control of the Palestinian Authority over all security forces.

But the newly elected Hamas Speaker, Abdul Aziz Duwek(ph), pledged that Hamas would fulfill what he called its rightful duty to resist occupation. Another Hamas legislator, Mushir Al-Musri(ph), said negotiations with Israel are quote "not on our agenda."

Prime Minister designate Ismail Hania(ph), a prominent Hamas leader, said that quote, "Dialogue and understanding should be used to preserve the national unity of the Palestinian people."

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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