Israel urges EU ‘caution’ on backing Fatah-Hamas unity

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In a phone conversation with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the EU of the potential consequences of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation as the two groups prepare to sign a unity deal in Cairo today (2 May). He asked Brussels to adopt a cautious approach. 

Lieberman called on Ashton to ensure that Europe makes sure that Hamas fulfils the requirements of the Middle East Quartet, comprising the EU, the United Nations, the US and Russia, reads a statement by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The Quartet have ordered Hamas to delete from its charter a clause that calls for the destruction of Israel, as well as to recognise Israel's right to exist, cease all terror activities against Israel and honour all agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Last week, Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political factions, announced in Cairo on 27 April that they agreed to form an interim government and fix a general election date.

Their move came after a four-year bitter and at times violent conflict, which saw Hamas administer the Gaza Strip and the West Bank controlled by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian envoy to Brussels, Leila Shahid, last week called on the EU to support the new 'technocratic' Palestinian Authority (PA), saying it was a step towards unity and reconciliation.

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, she said Fatah and Hamas leaders would sign the agreement next week, creating an interim administration that would respect all signed agreements and continue the non-violent path of the current PA.

Lieberman told Ashton that if the EU were to support the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement before the Quartet's preconditions had been met, it would send the Palestinian populace a message that terror is a viable means of achieving their goals, thereby reducing the chances of reaching a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

He also warned Ashton that the move increases the possibility that what happened in the Gaza Strip in 2005, when Hamas seized control of territory that Israel had evacuated, will repeat itself in "Judea and Samaria".

Meanwhile, Israel has decided to temporarily halt the transfer of millions of dollars in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority in response to the expected signature of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. The PA said the salaries of 170,000 civil servants may not be paid as a result.

Earlier on Friday (29 April), the Israeli foreign minister called on the international community not to recognise the new Palestinian reconciliation government.

"The international community must not legitimise the government whose face is the face of [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] and whose arms are the arms of Hamas, who launches missiles at citizens and stains innocents with blood," he told Cypriot President Emetris Christofias during a meeting in Nicosia, according to a statement issued by his office after the meeting.

On 18 February, Britain, France and Germany launched an initiative to kick-start negotiations by proposing a draft resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – including borders and security arrangements – that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state via dialogue.

The move would have given the EU and UN effective responsibility for holding a new round of negotiations. However, the US objected and an April meeting of the Quartet was postponed.

Background

Hamas won Palestinian elections that followed Yasser Arafat's death in 2006. But the group was boycotted by Israel, the US and the EU soon afterwards, for its use of violence to try to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas's tactic of suicide bombings against civilian targets repulsed supporters and opponents of the Palestinian cause alike.

Even so, it was power rivalry between the national-religious Hamas and secular-nationalist Fatah which sparked bloody fighting, culminating in June 2007 clashes which left more than 100 people dead. When the smoke had cleared, Hamas was in control of the Gaza Strip and a bitter feud between the two biggest Palestinian factions had been cemented in blood.

The West continued to funnel large quantities of aid towards the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Iran similarly supported Hamas. But a global blockade of the Gaza Strip reduced economic, travel and life possibilities in the 7km by 22km Gaza Strip to a bare minimum.

In 2004, before the siege began, 65% of Gaza's population lived below the UN threshold for poverty of $2 a day. Today, 80% of the Strip's 1.5 million inhabitants – 70% of whom are refugees or their descendants – rely on food aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).  

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