EU unlikely to end PA embargo

Source: EU foreign ministers to reassert that PA agree to Quartet conditions.

EU 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
EU 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Despite a Palestinian diplomatic blitz to get the world to lift its boycott of the Palestinian Authority following Thursday's Mecca agreement, the European Union's 27 foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday will likely take a "wait-and-see attitude," according to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem. The sources said that the EU foreign ministers are likely to thank the Saudis for their involvement and salute the Palestinians for taking a step in the right direction, but make no commitment toward lifting the embargo until it becomes clear what exactly the Palestinians agreed upon. According to one official, the Europeans were unlikely to veer too far from the Quartet statement of Friday, which reiterated the need for the Palestinians to accept the international community's three principles: recognize Israel, renounce and stop terrorism and accept previous agreements. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, making his first public comment on the agreements that are expected to lead to a Palestinian national unity government, also took a wait and see attitude at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "Israel neither rejects nor accepts the agreements," Olmert said. "Israel, like the international community, is studying what exactly was achieved, what was said and what is the basis on which the agreement rests, if it exists, and if it's complete." Olmert told the cabinet that from Israel's point of view, there was not a Palestinian announcement at the conclusion of the Mecca meetings that included acceptance of the international community's three benchmarks. "We will continue to assess the developments in light of these criteria, and demand Palestinian compliance with them," Olmert said. Olmert said that it was "no secret" that Israel was conducting negotiations through the Egyptians over the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but that Abbas - who in the past claimed he had no responsibility for the matter since he was opposed to the kidnapping but had no control over Hamas - could no longer make that claim when he was a partner in a national unity government with Hamas. Olmert said it was clear that the release of Shalit was a precondition to the international community changing its relationship with the PA, along with the three criteria. Olmert said he discussed this Sunday morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began a visit to the region Sunday that will take him to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. Olmert told the cabinet that at this point, when there was not yet any firm Palestinian government guidelines, there was no reason not to go ahead with the planned trilateral meeting with Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on February 19 in Jerusalem. It was decided to go ahead with the meeting following consultations Olmert held over the weekend and a general feeling that to cancel the meeting now would only place Israel in a negative light in the world. The decision was made to continue talking to Abbas until a point where it becomes clear that he is a partner in a government that doesn't accept the three principles. Senior diplomatic officials, meanwhile, had reservations about how much the international community could actually pressure Hamas to change its positions in the days before the guidelines of the new Palestinian government are fixed. Nevertheless, the officials said Israel wanted to ensure that the international community not applaud what was achieved at Mecca too loudly and lead Hamas to believe that nothing more was needed to be done for the PA to gain international legitimacy. The officials said that Germany, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and Britain were likely to remain firmly committed at Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers against using the Mecca agreement as a springboard to begin reassessing their relationship with the EU. France and Finland, the officials said, were leaning in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, both OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin and the deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told the cabinet that Hamas emerged as the victor from Mecca. In Yadlin's assessment, Hamas did not compromise on any of its principles, can continue its arms build-up, has been able to retain key governmental assets by keeping Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister and will now have Abbas going around the world trying to get the international community to give it legitimacy. The deputy head of the Shin Bet, whose name cannot be published, added that Hamas also has time now to restore its status on the Palestinian street, a status that suffered as a result of the recent battles with Fatah. He said that it was also significant strategically for Hamas that the welfare portfolios in the new government would be in their hands, even though the Finance, Interior and Foreign ministries were to be given to "independents" believed to be closer to Fatah. Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal has managed, according to the deputy Shin Bet head, to create a status for himself equal to, if not stronger than, that of Abbas. Yadlin said the intense Saudi involvement in brokering the agreement was due to a feeling in Riyadh that continued intra-Palestinian fighting only played into the hands of the Iranians. He also said that in the final analysis, Abbas was willing to prevent a civil war even at the price of turning his back on the demands of the US, which made it clear that it wanted to see a unity government accept the three international criteria. Yadlin pointed out that much work still needed to be done to close the deal, and that this was a process that could continue for a number of weeks.