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(photo credit: AP)
In what is perceived in Jerusalem as a mistaken effort to give Hamas room to maneuver, the EU's 27 foreign ministers, in a statement issued Monday, did not call, as in the past, for Hamas to forswear terrorism, recognize Israel or accept previous PLO agreements with Israel.
Government sources in Jerusalem said France led the efforts to keep what has become known as the Quartet's three conditions on Hamas from being included in the European Council's conclusions on the Middle East peace process.
Instead, the statement said the foreign ministers expressed "continued encouragement for inter-Palestinian reconciliation behind [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas and support for the mediation efforts by Egypt and the Arab League."
The foreign ministers called "on all Palestinians to find common ground, based on nonviolence, in order to facilitate reconstruction in Gaza and the organization of elections."
The move to keep the three conditions out of the resolutions comes amid mounting concern in Jerusalem that Europe is slowly moving away from the three conditions on Hamas, which have been adopted both by the Quartet and the UN Security Council.
According to diplomatic sources, the French were trying to give Hamas "a way out," and felt that if the conditions were not always mentioned every statement, it might give the Islamist organization a chance to soften its positions and perhaps give a boost to Egyptian-brokered talks between Fatah and Hamas.
The European foreign ministers issued another statement regarding Israel on Tuesday, this one following the EU Association meeting the day before with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in which they essentially said the decision from last year to upgrade ties with Israel would remain in place, but that no steps toward implementing it would be taken at this point.
In December, the EU's foreign ministers approved a significant upgrade in the union's relationship with Israel, including a political upgrade that would include ad hoc summit meetings between Israel's prime minister and all EU heads of government, something that has never taken place before. It also called for Israel's foreign minister to meet with all 27 EU foreign ministers three times a year, the inclusion of Israel in EU peacekeeping forces and for an EU commitment to help Israel better integrate into UN agencies. The upgrade would also enable Israeli participation in a wide variety of EU programs that are currently closed to it.
But, as one senior European diplomatic official said on Tuesday, the upgrade remained in the "in-box," and would not move forward until the EU was satisfied with Israeli progress on the peace process - something not currently the case.
The upgrade was essentially frozen during Operation Cast Lead, and has stayed in that state ever since.
Nevertheless, one senior Israeli diplomatic official noted that the EU foreign ministers did not decide to scrap the upgrade decision, as was being advocated by Belgium and Luxembourg, but rather to drag their feet in its implementation. The Arab countries have for months been lobbying against the upgrade.
"Despite efforts of some countries to cancel what was already agreed upon, their efforts did not succeed," the official said. "Europe repeated its commitment to the upgrade, and we will continue to work toward implementing it, hopefully in the near future."