(photo credit: AP)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "disappointment" with the new Palestinian Authority unity government on Monday. That view contrasted with official statements over the last few days from countries such as Sweden, Italy, Ireland and Norway, which rushed to praise and even to immediately reengage the new government.
In his first comments on the developments in the PA, Ban, in a Voice of America Television interview, said: "The initial report coming from this unity government seems to be a little bit disappointing."
"They have not clearly stated they will abide by these three principles," he said, referring to the Quartet's demands that the new government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous agreements.
"I urge that the national unity government will surely adhere to and respect principles laid out by the Quartet," Ban said. "It is important that parties concerned should respect the right to exist, particularly Israel's, and engage in dialogue without resorting to violence, and also respect all previous agreed international agreements and principles."
Ban is scheduled to travel to the Middle East next week, meeting with the Palestinians on Sunday and with Israeli officials on Monday. His trip will also take him to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, where he will attend the Arab League Summit in Riyadh on March 28-29. Ban's itinerary does not include Syria or Iran.
Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin, who met with Ban in New York on Monday, quoted the secretary-general as saying, "It would be a mistake" for the world to boycott non-Hamas ministers in the unity government, such as Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr and Finance Minister Salaam Fayad.
Regarding the Arab summit, Ban - in his Voice of America interview - praised the Saudi initiative calling for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in exchange for a normalization of ties with the Arab world.
"I think the Arab peace initiative of 2002 by Saudi Arabia is one of the pillars which will facilitate the peace process in the Middle East," he said.
"It is encouraging that Americans and Israelis are now trying to revisit this Arab peace process," Ban added. "I know that there are still reservations shared by Israelis. But one cannot always be fully satisfied with one or two agreements. We must build upon these good principles."
The UN is one of the members of the Quartet, along with the US, the EU and Russia. Up until now the conventional wisdom in Jerusalem was that the UN and Russia were the "weakest links" in the Quartet regarding a willingness to be steadfast in affirming the three principles. But Ban's comments seemed to place the UN somewhere between the US - which continues to demand adherence to the principles before the PA government gets funding or legitimacy - and the EU, which is in the process of threshing out its position on the new government.
The EU, as reflected in a statement issued by Germany, which holds its rotating presidency, is taking a wait-and-see approach. Some EU countries issued statements praising the Palestinians without mentioning any of the disappointment that Ban articulated.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, announced immediately that it would reestablish full ties with the PA government. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen rushed to meet PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza on Monday morning.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt issued a statement on Sunday welcoming the new coalition. "I hope we will be able to resume full cooperation with the Palestinian government," he said.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Ugo Intini, who holds the Middle East portfolio in the ministry, said in an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera, posted on the Italian Foreign Ministry's Web site, that the composition of the Hamas-led government was "solid."
"It's also good for Israel, to which we have consistently said: Your interest lies in achieving peace not with half of the Palestinian people, but with the whole population, otherwise that peace will not last," he said.
Intini said there were three preconditions for relaunching a peace process: a strong Israeli government, a strong Palestinian government and a strong commitment by the US.
"What is missing is a strong Israeli government, even if it has a large parliamentary majority," he said. "But I am still optimistic. I haven't forgotten that when some decades ago Fatah presented itself to the world, people said what they say of Hamas today: they are terrorists. But then we reached the Camp David Accords [sic]."
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said in a statement issued on Sunday that there is now "a significant opportunity, which should not be lost, to build a real momentum for lasting peace."