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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Olmert to Shun New Palestinian Coalition

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians, saying contacts would be limited to humanitarian issues until the new coalition government explicitly renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Speaking at the weekly meeting of his Cabinet, Olmert said he would boycott the new government and urged the international community to follow suit. The Cabinet overwhelmingly endorsed Olmert's position.

The Cabinet vote came a day after rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah installed their new unity government. They hope the alliance will end months of infighting and persuade the international community to lift a year of bruising economic sanctions.

Israeli officials fear the new government will cause the tough international stance against the Palestinians to crumble. Israel and the United States on Sunday ruled out a resumption of financial transfers to the Palestinians.

Norway announced, however, that it would lift sanctions, and Britain and the UN also showed a willingness to be flexible.

While the coalition's platform is more moderate than that of the previous Hamas-led government, Olmert said it fell short of international demands to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past peace deals. He also made note of its affirmation of the right to "resistance."

"We can't maintain contact with the government or its ministers when you consider that this is a government that does not accept the conditions of the international community and sees terror as a legitimate goal," Olmert told his Cabinet.

"We expect the international community will not waver ... and will continue the steps that were taken to isolate the government that does not accept the [international] principles," he added.

Olmert said he would maintain contact with the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was separately elected and is not a member of the coalition government. But Olmert said the discussions would be limited to "quality of life" issues, such as improving living conditions for Palestinians.

The Cabinet overwhelmingly endorsed Olmert's position 19-2, Israeli radio stations reported.

The new Palestinian administration replaced a government led by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings. It capped months of negotiations -- interrupted by bursts of violence that killed more than 140 Palestinians -- between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas' rise to power last year provoked Western donor nations to cut off aid to the Palestinians. Israel also has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes it collects for the Palestinians. The sanctions have devastated the Palestinian economy.

At Saturday's parliamentary swearing-in ceremony, Palestinian leaders sent mixed messages about their dealings with Israel. But in sum, they appeared to show a softening of Hamas' stance toward Israel.