LONDON – British Foreign Secretary William Hague was the first EU foreign minister to welcome the agreement signed on Monday between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. In a statement issued on Tuesday, he said reuniting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under a government committed to peace was “a necessary condition for resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”
However that view – echoing an initial reaction from the US State Department – was clearly not shared by the Israeli government which, after a two-and-a-half hour emergency security cabinet meeting, strongly condemned the tie-up and said that it would “not negotiate with a Palestinian government with backing from Hamas – a terrorist organization – which calls for the destruction of Israel.”
Hague said that the British government has made clear that its continued support for the “new interim technocratic government for the occupied Palestinian territories” rested on the latter’s commitment to the “principle of nonviolence and acceptance of all previous agreements and obligations including Israel’s legitimate right to exist.”
And he added, he looked to the new government “to demonstrate these commitments through its actions as well as its words.”
His comments were in contrast to those of his Minister of State Hugh Robertson, who in a recent interview with London’s Jewish News said that the timing of the reconciliation between the PA and Hamas had been “unhelpful.”
Robertson used the occasion to express his “enormous sympathy” with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position on negotiating with Hamas.
“If Hamas was part of a future government and it remains a supporter of terrorism, that would make it impossible for this country [Britain] – as things stand – to support that government,” Robertson said during the interview.
Meanwhile in Brussels, a spokesman said that the EU took note of the establishment of “a Palestinian national consensus government” headed by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, describing it as “an important step in the process of Palestinian reconciliation.”
In what had all the appearances of a skilfully prepared diplomatically worded statement crafted by those seeking not to tread on too many toes, the spokesman added that the EU welcomed the appointment of a government of “independent personalities” and the declaration by PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the new government was committed to the principle of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, the recognition of Israel’s legitimate right to exist, nonviolence and respect of previous agreements.
“The EU’s engagement with the new Palestinian government will be based on its adherence to these policies and commitments,” the spokesman continued, though pointedly he did not elaborate on the type and level of engagement nor on who would assess – and how – the Palestinian government’s compliance with the four conditions.
In its statement the EU concluded that the process of Palestinian reconciliation faced many challenges “but it also creates new opportunities for the peace process, for democratic renewal and for the Palestinian people in both Gaza and the West Bank.”
Meanwhile in Paris, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry addressed journalists at the Quai d’Orsay on the formation of the Palestinian government.
Describing it was the first step toward implementing the reconciliation agreement concluded on April 23, the spokesman made clear France was “attached” to holding both the legislative and presidential elections in accordance with the agreement “throughout the Palestinian territories.”
And in words not dissimilar to those used in the EU statement, the spokesman added that France was ready to work with the PA government as long as it rejected the use of force, was committed to the peace process and honored the agreements, which – the spokesman emphasized – “means recognizing Israel.”
France took note of the assurances on each of those issues by Abbas and – as a result – reaffirmed its support for the reconciliation process which, it said, would build on that framework.
Demonstrating the degree of coordination that often emerges between European Union capitals spokesmen especially on foreign affairs issues, the French added their push for a resumption of the peace process talks. Saying that the end of division of the Palestinian territories would be an important step toward achieving a two-state solution, they urged that every effort be made by the parties to achieve that objective by the swift resumption of the peace negotiations.
However, questioned as to whether the French government was intending to contact Netanyahu or his administration in order to “change their mind” in the light of the premier’s decision to refuse recognition of the new Palestinian government, the French spokesman sidestepped the issue.
Instead, he said, Paris wanted the process of dialogue and discussion between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to be able to continue and for the peace process to resume. “The priority of our diplomacy in the Middle East is now to ensure the resumption of the peace process and the return to the path of dialogue in order to obtain an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians,” the spokesman added.
Switzerland, although not part of the EU, expressed very similar sentiments, but a country aspiring to achieve EU membership, Turkey, took a predictably pro-Palestinian stance, expressing yet again its hostility to Israel.
A senior adviser to Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul was reported as exclusively telling Alresalah.net that the formation of a Palestinian unity government should be viewed as a major victory.
Arshad Hormozlo indicated that Turkish officials intended to visit the Palestinian territories shortly, but declined to be more specific. He stressed that Turkey wholeheartedly supported Palestinian unity, and “what pleases the Palestinians, pleases the Turkish leadership.”
“We will not abandon our duty of supporting the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” he added. He urged Turkish people to visit the “occupied Palestinian territories” and strengthen all ways of cooperation with the Palestinians.