Leaders of European Union nations were expected to adopt a summit declaration Friday expressing support for a Palestinian unity government being formed by Hamas and Fatah while insisting that it recognize Israel, officials said. Draft conclusions of the two-day summit said the 27 EU nations stand "ready to work with a legitimate Palestinian government that adopts" international demands to stop violence, accept Israel's right to exist and recognize earlier agreements. Officials said no changes were expected once the conclusions are formally adopted.
Unity gov't may be finalized next week
The statement signaled no change in the EU's position that it will only resume direct financial aid payments to the Palestinian government if it meets those demands.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, however, said a Palestinian government would already go a long way toward meeting those conditions if it would respect earlier Israeli-Palestinian deals, something Hamas agreed to do at coalition talks with Fatah last month.
"By respecting previous agreements - that is really key - you have an implicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist," he said on the sidelines of the summit. He referred to the first Israeli-Palestinian agreement of 1993, now in tatters, which was signed in Oslo, Norway.
Israel and the United States are seeking a more explicit recognition.
At the summit, French President Jacques Chirac pressed other European leaders to support the Palestinian efforts to form a coalition government, which would draw in more moderate elements of Fatah alongside the radical Islamic group Hamas.
The draft conclusions specifically welcomed progress made at a Hamas-Fatah meeting in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, last month.
"We note the important step taken in Mecca," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, where the Feb. 8 agreement pledges to "respect" certain agreements with Israel even though it does not explicitly recognize Israel.
French diplomats said at the summit that the power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah was "a first step toward the realization of the conditions" set by the EU, US and others for the restoration of direct financial aid to the Palestinian government. The funds were frozen after Hamas, which the EU and US consider a terrorist organization, gained control of the Palestinian legislature and Cabinet in elections last year.
The EU has said that the movement toward unity among the Palestinians was an important step forward following outbreaks of fighting between Fatah and Hamas militants.
Bildt warned, however, that the EU would have to wait and see how the coalition talks pan out before the EU can make strong commitments of cooperation.