EU: No change in policy on Hamas

Despite worry over boycott, Quartet meets on response to unity gov't.

quartet in cairo 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
quartet in cairo 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Amid growing concern in Jerusalem that the European Union will begin showing flexibility on the three criteria for legitimizing the Palestinian Authority if a new Palestinian national unity government is formed, the EU is officially saying that nothing yet has changed. "It is too early to discuss any change," a senior EU official in Tel Aviv said this week. "If the Palestinians set up a government of experts it will be an improvement of the current situation, and must be considered. But there are no reports yet on a change of EU policy [toward the PA], and there must be some sort of assessment before this takes place." The Quartet has said it would not deal with the PA government until it recognized Israel, forswore terrorism and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The Quartet, meanwhile, met in Cairo to discuss ways to push the diplomatic process forward and Palestinian attempts to form a new unity government. The meeting took place at the residence of the Russian ambassador in Cairo and included US envoy David Welch, UN envoy Alvaro de Soto, Sergei Iacovlev from Russia and Marc Otte from the European Union. "The aim of this meeting is to come up with a common analysis of the situation and consider the next move, in particular if and when the Palestinians form a national unity government," European Union Middle East envoy Otte told AFP. "One of the main issues will be how to respond to a national unity government," a UN official told the French news agency. "This response is clearly very important because there is no sense in a unity government if it doesn't lift the blockade," he said. Formally, the EU foreign ministers reiterated in a statement issued after a meeting they held on Monday that they hoped to see a government formed "with a platform reflecting the Quartet principles and allowing for early engagement." One Israeli official said there was currently a tendency among some in Europe to want to compromise on the criteria, and that the nomination of US-educated university professor Muhammad Shbair to become the PA's next prime minister may provide the pretext for the EU to show a willingness to make these "compromises." Sources in Jerusalem said it was likely that Shbair's name would not have been put forward had the Palestinians not discussed his candidacy with the EU and the US beforehand and gauged their likely response to his appointment. The officials said it was obvious that the Palestinians were trying to break the economic blockade that has been imposed on the PA since Hamas took power earlier this year. Israel's position on the matter is that the name of the Palestinian Authority prime minister is less significant, and that what matters most is whether the government he may lead will accept the three criteria. If the government doesn't accept the criteria, diplomatic officials said, Israel would continue to boycott it, and would expect the international community to do the same. US officials have also said that their policy toward the PA would not change until the three criteria have been met.