(IsraelNN.com) The US State Department is working hard to exert damage control after a televised speech in which Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) announced he wants to sit down and make peace with the rival Hamas terrorist faction in Gaza.
Gaza-based Hamas leader and former PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh quickly responded with positive statements of his own, calling on Abbas in a statement late Thursday to immediately begin negotiations for a national unity government.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Thursday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Abbas and spoke with him about his sudden call for unity with Hamas.
McCormack insisted that Abbas has not changed his conditions for dialogue with the rival terrorist faction, which the State Department spokesman said included recognizing Fatah as the legitimate PA authority and stepping down from power in Gaza.
Let's go to the transcript of the actual press briefing:
QUESTION: This is on – did the Secretary call Palestinian President Abbas today?
MR. MCCORMACK: Mm-hmm. She did.
QUESTION: What was the content, roughly, of the conversation? And did, specifically, the issue of the possibility of Abbas renewing contacts with Hamas come up, and what did she say to that?
MR. MCCORMACK: It was one of these calls where periodically she checks in with President Abbas to get his take on where the discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians stand.
Recently, there was a meeting between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, prior to Prime Minister Olmert coming over here. So she wanted to touch base with him on that, talk about issues in the region. They did touch on President Abbas’s speech. And I saw a lot of reporting that construed his speech – his remarks as in some way deviating from his previous stance regarding dialogue with Hamas. And he quite clearly reiterated in his remarks, as well as during the conversation with the Secretary, is that his conditions for any discussion with Hamas have not changed. Those were clearly outlined in Yemen. And that – you know, you can talk to the Palestinians about the extensive list that they have. But to sum it up, it is basically Hamas reverses the coup in Gaza, that they recognize Fatah as leading this Palestinian Government, and that they abide by the commitments of the PLO, and you know, contained within that are a number of conditions that are very similar to those you’ll find in the Quartet statement – the London Quartet statement.
QUESTION: Do you find even him – I mean, I understand there are lots of conditions. And I understand the conditions are, in fact, presumably ones --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: -- that you would approve. But does it dismay you that he’s even talking about talking to them even with, you know, conditions? I mean, it may be that he’s moving toward talking to them without --
MR. MCCORMACK: No. No, we don’t detect any movement at all. And I recall that – I think it’s been a month or a month and a half ago – we were at sort of a similar cycle of news stories that came out, and really with the same flaw in them in that they did not pick up on that – his points about the conditions. And I think that’s kind of the same case we have here today.
QUESTION: Can I just give you our readout from Saeb Erekat, who said --
MR. MCCORMACK: Sure.
QUESTION: -- that Rice called Abbas and told him that Olmert had assured the United States the peace process would continue, President Abbas told her he was ready to continue the peace process; Abu Mazen complained about settlements, she told him U.S. officials discussed the issue with Olmert; Abbas told her he had launched an initiative to implement the Yemeni initiative and hopes that Hamas would respond, but she did not say anything about that. Does that all sound right to you?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you know, again, I’ve explained it the way that I would put it from our side in terms of the dialogue with Hamas. They did talk about settlements, and the Secretary reiterated our views on that. They – and the Palestinians understand that. And in terms of Prime Minister Olmert’s commitment, I don’t know that she underlined that for him, but I think he understands it well. And I’ll reiterate our view that both sides, both Prime Minister Olmert as well as President Abbas, are committed to the process.
See also PLO News Agency June 5th, via IMRA:
.... President [Mahmoud Abbas] added that if Israel wants peace and security, it must completely withdraw from Palestinian and Arab Territories to the fourth line of June, 1967.
For the record, the Arutz Sheva article points out that "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has previously said that he would immediately halt talks with Abbas if he and Hamas move toward another unity government."
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (2nd R) stands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd L) during their meeting in Jerusalem June 2, 2008, in this picture released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). REUTERS/Moshe Milner/GPO/Handout