Hamas Fatah 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Norway recognized the new Palestinian government just minutes after it was approved Saturday, and said it would normalize relations with the Hamas-Fatah coalition.
"Norway welcomes the formation of the Palestinian unity government," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a statement, adding the coalition was "taking important steps towards complying with the international community's demands."
"Norway will thus on this basis re-establish political and economic relations with the Palestinian government," he said.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but is a key player in Middle East peacemaking and one of the most steadfast contributors to the Palestinian Authority. Secret negotiations in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, led to a historic Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in 1993.
"Norway expects the Palestinian authorities to respect basic international standards as regards compliance with previously concluded agreements, renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel's right to exist," Stoere said.
He also called on Israel to "take a constructive approach to the Unity Government, for example by releasing withheld Palestinian revenues from taxes and fees and by increasing the freedom of movement for the Palestinian population."
Israel has said it will not do business with the coalition.
Norway's announcement came minutes after the Hamas-Fatah coalition was approved in a 83-3 parliamentary vote, clearing a final formal hurdle before taking on the challenge of persuading a skeptical world to end a crippling yearlong boycott of the Palestinian government.
The coalition replaces a government led by Hamas, which carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israel and swept parliamentary elections last year. Hamas's ascent to power drew down bruising international sanctions meant to pressure it to recognize Israel and accept past peace accords.
Stoere said Norway would deal with the new Palestinian government but "upholds its demands on Hamas as an organization."
"It is essential that the Unity Government gains control of the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and that the rocket attacks on Israeli areas cease," he added.
The Norwegian foreign minister said the new Palestinian government should "make an active effort" to secure the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas in June 2006.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bjoern Jahnsen said Norway's decision means that it has lifted the restrictions on political contacts and aid it had imposed on the previous Hamas-led government.
"We've resumed normal political relations," he said.
Russia has also been the positive regarding the new coalition, saying the Palestinian government has taken international demands "into account."
The British Foreign Office called the formation of a national unity government "a step in the right direction." But a spokesman stopped short of endorsing the new government's platform.
"We'll judge the new government on their actions," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "We are willing to work with any government based on the Quartet principles."
The US was more subdued. White House spokesman Tony Snow, saying he did not want to express disappointment, indicated Thursday that there would be no change in the US administration's refusal to deal with the Palestinian government unless its platform changed.
"Our position has been consistent, which is, you need a Palestinian government that is going to, in fact, abide by the Quartet conditions," Snow said.