Israeli minister fears Abbas 'fig leaf' role

ISRAELI foreign minister Tzipi Livni yesterday launched an unprecedented attack on the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of trying to become a "fig leaf" for the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority.

Ms Livni said she was concerned that Mr Abbas, who is respected internationally for his stress on negotiations as the way to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, could undermine Israeli efforts to halt the flow of aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to Hamas' shock victory in legislative elections last month.

Ms Livni predicted that while Hamas would refrain from attacks in the near future to avoid aid being cut off, Mr Abbas "will try to establish himself as the fig leaf of the Palestinian Authority, as the good and legitimate person in this situation".

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"Our task is to make sure the international community doesn't buy this," she said.

Hamas calls for Israel's destruction and has carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings.

Mr Abbas espouses a two-state compromise solution and says such bombings harm the Palestinian cause.

In an interview broadcast yesterday, Mr Abbas hinted he may resign if Hamas prevents him from advancing peace efforts.

"We could reach a point where I cannot perform my duty. Then I will not continue sitting in this place, against and in spite of my convictions," he said.

The Palestinian basic law, a precursor to a constitution, accords the president power over foreign affairs and control over some of the security forces.

He also has the power to veto legislation.

Israel's Labour party opposition has stressed that Mr Abbas, elected in 2005, should be strengthened as a counterweight to Hamas.