(photo credit: AP)
The European Union will maintain its wait-and-see policy toward a Palestinian unity government until Hamas and Fatah agree on a division of Cabinet posts and finalize the new government's policy toward Israel, a top official said Monday.
"We have to see results," External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "We have been waiting for so many months to have a national unity government ... a few more weeks will also be borne by us."
Ferrero-Waldner dismissed suggestions from France and other traditionally pro-Arab nations that the EU should move more quickly to offer early encouragement to the new Palestinian Cabinet - perhaps even without the condition that Hamas fulfill international demands on recognizing Israel.
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"We simply cannot decide yet when, or even if, we will be able to re-engage with the new Palestinian government of national unity because we will need to see its program and we will need to see its actions," she said.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency - noted that Monday's talks would focus on Palestinian efforts to establish a unity government, following the failure of the latest round of negotiations between rivals Fatah and Hamas.
"We will have to talk about the question of how the events of the past days will affect the continuation of efforts between Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert and [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas," Steinmeier said.
Steinmeier noted that Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had failed to make progress in coalition talks Sunday in Gaza.
Palestinian officials had expressed hopes that the Cabinet could be named his week, although the period formally allotted still has two weeks to run.
They were negotiating on the basis of an accord hammered out last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, laying out the framework of a government bringing Abbas's Fatah into partnership with Haniyeh's Hamas.
"We therefore look forward with special interest to the meeting with the Israeli foreign minister tonight," Steinmeier told journalists.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to brief the 27-member bloc about Israel's opposition to the Mecca accords and the power-sharing deal it envisages between Fatah and Hamas, which continues to refuse to recognize the existence of the Jewish state.
The Europeans, like other members of the Quartet mediating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - United States, Russia and the UN - have demanded that the new Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect past accords.
But some EU nations favor quickly resuming direct assistance to the new government, after a yearlong boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority that has economically devastated the Palestinian Authority.
Last month, Abbas toured European capitals asking for Western support of the incoming coalition government. The moderate leader said the government - if not Hamas - would be committed to rejecting violence, international law and to meeting all previous agreements with Israel.