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British parliamentarians on Monday softened their demands for negotiating with Hamas and said that while it is critical for the group to renounce violence, it does not necessarily need to recognize Israel for preliminary contact to be established with the European Union, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In a report to be published on Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House of Lords' European Union Committee said that the EU should avoid an "undesirably rigid" approach to dealing with Hamas that would risk undermining progress in building viable and democratic Palestinian institutions, a prerequisite, they say, for any peace settlement.
Still, in the report, entitled "The EU and the Middle East Peace Process," the committee asserts the EU is "right" to require Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept existing agreements.
A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs subcommittee, one of seven subcommittees of the European Union Committee, said that Hamas must be "clear on renouncing violence" and that while pressure should be put on the group to recognize Israel and accept previous agreements, "progress should not be scuppered because of this."
The committee, which consists of 11 members of Britain's upper house of parliament, warned that the situation in the Palestinian territories could deteriorate rapidly and that the crisis was in danger of spreading.
Underlining the urgent need for international action, they stated that the EU was in a strong position to press for a lasting peace in the region and should participate "actively and forcefully" in efforts to renew the peace process.
The report also expressed "grave concern about the security, human rights and socio-economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories," and criticized the Quartet - made up of the US, UN EU and Russia - which they say has "contributed nothing to ameliorate the crisis."
The report says that the EU and the international community must act urgently to restore the credibility of the peace process through a renewed, concerted and sustained effort. The Lords see the Quartet as an essential diplomatic tool for coordinating the involvement of the wider international community in the peace process.
A key conclusion in the report is that the EU must press upon the US the importance of its sustaining an "active, balanced and consistent interest and engagement" in the peace process. It calls on the EU to be "more active and assertive than it has been in the past," including providing leadership and imaginative ideas within the Quartet.
The EU needs to build and strengthen the bilateral relationship with Israel, the report says, and encourage Israel to transfer quickly the remaining Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority.
The committee heard evidence from an array of people including, Kim Howells, Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign Office; Javier Solana, EU High Representative; Oded Eran, Israeli Ambassador to the EU; Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian General Delegate to the UK; Sami Khiyami, Syrian Ambassador to the UK and Gehad Refaat Madi, Egyptian Ambassador to the UK.
The road map, originally conceived in 2003, cannot be the only vehicle for progress, the report also states. As a result they urge the EU to keep the objective of a two-state solution firmly in mind at every stage of its dealings with Palestinians and Israelis. However, the report argues that the interim steps described in the road map should "no longer be pursued to the exclusion of consideration of the final-status issues, including the territorial limits of the two states, the fate of refugees and the status of Jerusalem."
The report stresses that any peace process should be inclusive, and cites Northern Ireland as a "positive source of inspiration."
Outlining the significant role the EU plays in supporting the Palestinians - through the provision of billions of Euros of humanitarian and financial aid - the Lords say that the EU should link its financial and technical assistance more directly to its political goals.
The Arab League states' recent diplomatic effort is commended in the report as is the role of Saudi Arabia in the formation of the Palestinian national unity government. It argues that the EU should encourage the renewal of Arab regional leadership and should continue to engage with Syria to ensure it did not undermine the peace process either by supplying weapons to Hizbullah or by providing safe haven to exiled Hamas leaders.
Iran's destabilizing influence in the region is also discussed, including its links to Hizbullah and Hamas. The report concludes that while it is important that the EU continues to engage with Iran diplomatically, the Islamic state "should not be allowed to have a veto" over the peace process.
The peace process is "vulnerable to derailment by extremists on both sides," the Lords maintain, but the EU should not allow the process to be "held hostage by any faction, individual or state" and discussions should start to identify whether the EU may be in a position to support a peace settlement through the deployment of a peacekeeping mission.
"The EU has a crucial role to play in ensuring the... peace process gets back on track," Lord Roper, chairman of the Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, said.
"As recent events have testified, the situation in Palestine is very fluid and it will be necessary to engage effectively with all the parties involved, that is where the EU has an advantage over other members of the Quartet.
He added: "The EU should now take an assertive approach both unilaterally and within the Quartet to ensure innovative solutions are found to move the peace process forward as quickly as possible. The focus must now be on working towards sustainable final-status agreements, not an inflexible devotion to the road map. The goal of a two-state solution is key and the EU should do everything to ensure that it is achieved."
The Committee of Foreign Affairs is appointed by the House of Lords "to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the EU." â€¢