Palestinian envoy calls on Brussels to support unity deal

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The Palestinian envoy to Brussels, Leila Shahid, has called on the EU to support the new 'technocratic' Palestinian Authority (PA), agreed between Fatah and Hamas as a step towards unity and reconciliation.

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, she said that 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.

Under the terms of the deal, official negotiations with Israel would still be conducted by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).  

"The EU should look at this as a very major step forward and support it," Shahid told EURACTIV, "because it can only be positive to unify one Palestinian position under the leadership of the PLO".

There was "no reason at all" why the EU's annual €500 million funding of the PA should be affected, in her view.

"Given the major changes in the Arab world, everyone should welcome a national coalition government that will have more credibility and the authority to sign a peace agreement," she said.

In a reference to Palestinian plans to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September, "it is difficult to believe that the Palestinians can move towards statehood if they don't have national unity," she added.

There was no immediate reaction from the EU.

"We're still looking into this," Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told EURACTIV. "Catherine Ashton will be talking to people in the region and in the EU over the next few days, to try to gauge where we are at."

EURACTIV understands that EU officials were in contact with Leila Shahid yesterday (28 April).

In a statement, Ashton later said: "The EU has consistently called for peace and reconciliation, under the authority of President Abbas, leading to an end to the division between the West Bank and Gaza and in support of greater security and stability across the region."

News of the accord between the two biggest Palestinian political factions shocked politicians and publics alike, across the world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the PA had to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.

Negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel have been in deep freeze since September 2010, when Israel resumed building Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Reaction to the unity deal from Washington was cool bordering on frosty.

"The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organisation which targets civilians," read a statement by White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

According to Leila Shahid, neither Fatah nor Hamas will be represented among the "independent technocrats" who form the new interim government.

But details of its security arrangements, and indeed its composition, "will have to wait for the implementation of the agreement," she said.

"That will only happen after it is signed by President Abbas for Fatah and Khalid Meshaal for Hamas next week," she added.

Some reports suggest that officials and members of the US Congress will now try to force the Obama administration to reconsider its financial support for the Palestinian Authority.

But Shahid urged Brussels not to follow suit.

"The EU should not fall again into the trap of trying to boycott and marginalise any political party like it did in 2006, because that did not lead us closer to peace," she said. "On the contrary, it fuelled more violence and an all-out war against Gaza."

Fatah and Hamas had both learned from their previous mistakes, as she saw it. "I hope the international community will too," she said. 

Positions

Yoel Mester, a spokesman for the Israeli Mission to the EU, sent Euractiv a statement stressing that “Israel has always been willing to engage in direct peace talks with the Palestinians, in search of a two state solution. However, the possibility of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas forming a government would undermine the chances of resuming a meaningful peace process. Hamas is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization, whose charter calls for the annihilation of Israel. Hamas terrorists have fired thousands of rockets on Israel's cities.” 

The statement continued: “The Quartet (United States, Russia, EU and the UN) has placed clear conditions for what is required of a legitimate negotiating partner with Israel – recognition of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of terrorism, and abiding by previous agreements. Hamas unequivocally rejects these conditions, and makes clear that it will never change its ideological opposition to the existence of Israel.”

He noted that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told Congress in April 2009 that the United States would not deal with or fund any Palestinian government that included Hamas, until it accepted the Quartet conditions. “Israel expects similar clarity from all responsible members of the international community and from all those who hope to advance peace in our region,” he said.

A European Parliament delegation for Relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council was in Ramallah, when the Fatah-Hamas deal was signed.

Delegation member and Danish Green MEP Margrete Auken welcomed the agreement, saying: "This breakthrough will hopefully pave the way for a more consensual politics and ultimately a unity government in Palestine and the EU should welcome and give support to ensure its potential is fully realised."

"The agreement will hopefully lead to new elections. The EU must respect the outcome of any democratic elections and not repeat its gross error following the 2006 elections and the consequences this had for the Palestinian people and stability in the region, as well as the EU's credibility," Auken said.

Socialists & Democrats leader and German MEP Martin Schulz also hailed the news. "We have always encouraged and supported reconciliation," he said. "This deal makes it possible for Palestinians to end internal divisions, speak with a single voice and continue on the peaceful path towards a Palestinian state. These elections must be free and fair and the democratic wishes of Palestinian voters must be respected by the international community."

"The accord, which should be signed in the coming days, may give fresh momentum to efforts for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians with two states living side by side in peace and security. It is time for Israel, the Palestinians and the international community to live up to their responsibility in the peace process. Peace talks must resume and must deliver. There is no other option," Schulz said.

"US taxpayer funds should not and must not be used to support those who threaten US security, our interests, and our vital ally, Israel," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the US House Foreign Committee.

She stressed that US law prevents such funds – close to $500 million in annual assistance – because the PA must recognise Israel's right to exist in order to receive the funding. Hamas is labelled a terrorist organisation by the US and Israel.

Background

Hamas won the 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 their 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).  

Timeline

 

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