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Even as it welcomed the democratic process of the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, the European Union warned Thursday that a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government must recognize Israel and renounce violence if it wants to maintain relations with the continent.
Some politicians even threatened that EU funding to the PA could be in jeopardy if Hamas did not change its tune.
"It's a clear consequence of everything that has been agreed upon between the Palestinian Authority and the European Commission that the recognition of Israel's right to exist is a necessity to continue relations as they have been up to now," EU Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
He added that the EU, which contributes millions of euros to the PA would continue "to honor our financial commitment to the Palestinian Authority to the extent that Hamas will honor the political commitments to the European Union."
The EU would continue to cooperate with any PA government committed to solving the conflict through peaceful means with a respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law as laid out in two agreements the PA has already signed with the EU, the Association Agreement and the Action Plan, said Cibrian-Uzal.
He noted that it was the EU's belief that the elections were held under fair conditions.
UK MEP Macmillan Scott, who led the European Parliament's observer mission, agreed when speaking to the media in Jerusalem.
"On the streets of Palestine we heard the clamor for choice and change. It was the noise of democracy and we welcome that. The process of the elections was entirely free and fair to the highest international standards, in fact a model for the entire Arab world," he said.
A Hamas victory, however, "is a challenge to the international community," he said. He noted that the EU is a large donor to the Palestinian people. "We have an obligation to them and they have an obligation to us" to take essential steps toward peace.
Throughout Europe, officials reacted along similar veins.
The office of the EU presidency in Austria said, "There is no place in a political process for groups or individuals who advocate violence. The European Union urges all factions to disarm, renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said bluntly, "We can only do business with people who renounce terrorism."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, "Hamas faces a very clear choice, does it renounce violence and go in the direction of all democratic parties of using argument and votes to achieve what it wants, in which case it will receive a good report and a good response from the international community."
Straw warned that "if it drives in the other direction and fails to renounce violence... they will face an appropriate response."
He added that "Hamas... has to understand that many of the things it says it will deliver to the people of the occupied territories can only be delivered through negotiation with the Israeli government."
Concern crossed political divides, with traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause, such as Italy's center-left opposition, among those expressing concern.
The Italian government said Hamas's victory could indefinitely postpone any chance of peace and make the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult. "It is a very, very, very bad result," Italian news agencies quoted Premier Silvio Berlusconi as saying.
Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said Hamas's showing was "a protest against those in power who have not done enough, a reaction to the incapacity to lead the political process forward."
But she said the EU cannot cooperate with Hamas unless it changes its policies.
In France, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said renouncing violence, accepting progress toward peace, recognizing Israel and the Oslo Accords were "indispensable" conditions for working with "a Palestinian government of any kind."
Ignasi Guardans, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, said, "We cannot push for democracy and then deny the result of free and fair elections." At the same time, he said, "It is obvious that the EU would never countenance funding a regime that continued an armed fight against Israel."
AP contributed to this report.
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