Riyadh March 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The European Union on Friday hailed a renewed Arab initiative for peace in the Middle East as encouraging, but indicated it would stick with an aid scheme that bypasses the Palestinian government to go directly to the people.
EU foreign ministers will continue to evaluate the intentions of the new Hamas-Fatah coalition government.
"Our commitment to the peace process remains one of the most important foreign policy priorities of the European Union," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country currently holds the EU's presidency, said before the start on a gathering of the bloc's 27 foreign ministers.
"I see this as an encouragement for regional peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians," Steinmeier said.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed the Arab peace plan saying it marked a "revolutionary change," but flatly rejected its demand to let Palestinian refugees return to Israel's borders.
EU foreign ministers also will review the bloc's financial support for the Palestinians, who now have a national unity government that still includes Hamas.
On Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the European Parliament that he will recommend they judge the new Palestinian government "by its deeds" and maintain contact with moderate elements in the national unity government.
These include Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, a respected economist who had earned the trust of the Bush administration in his first term as the treasury chief, before Hamas came to power in 2006, and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr. Both are independents.
"It would be a mistake for us to cut off all contacts with the people who are part of this new government and have worked with us for many years," Solana said.