EU: Quartet must decide on Gaza role

Quartet may prove flexible on 3 conditions for granting Hamas legitimacy.

quartet in cairo 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
quartet in cairo 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Quartet will need to discuss the role it should play in the internal Palestinian strife, in addition to dealing with the standard road map issues, senior European officials said prior to Friday's much-anticipated Quartet meeting in Washington. The Quartet, according to the officials, would have to decide whether it thought Hamas-Fatah strife was something that in the long term would be beneficial to moving the diplomatic process forward, or whether it would be better to back Saudi and Egyptian efforts to mediate in the crisis. One official said that there were some in the US administration who favored a clash in the hope that this would lead to an end to Hamas's PA rule. US President George W. Bush announced this week that the US would provide some $86 million to strengthen Fatah-affiliated security forces. The US has stressed, however, that this money would go for the purchase of non-lethal equipment. As to those who think the Quartet should do what it can to assist the mediation efforts, the group will have to decide how far it is willing to go to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian unity government. In other words, the Quartet will have to decide whether it should be flexible regarding the international community's three conditions for granting Hamas legitimacy: recognition of Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Greater international flexibility on this issue would make it easier for the Palestinians to set up a unity government. The US will be represented at the meeting by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Russia by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; the UN by new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and the EU by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the UN, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European Commissioner for External relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The last Quartet meeting took place in September, and this one is taking place amid expectations that the US will take a more active role in trying to move the diplomatic process forward. Rice, who was here last month, is expected during the second half of the month to hold trilateral talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Neither a date nor a venue has yet been established. Israeli officials said that they expected that the Quartet would issue a statement that would discuss the need for a "political horizon" to be folded into the road map. The idea behind the "political horizon" is to start Palestinian-Israel discussions about the final-status issues - the contours of a Palestinian state, Jerusalem and the refugee issue - in order to "empower the moderates" by showing the Palestinians what they had to gain were the PA-government to accept the international community's three criteria and crack down on terrorism. Despite calls for the international community to stop boycotting Hamas, a call that Russia has made clear it would bring up at the meeting, Israeli officials said there were no indications that this position would be accepted, or that the three criteria would be watered down. It was also unlikely, diplomatic officials said, that the Quartet would place much pressure on Israel at this point because of Olmert's weak political situation, and the desire not to do anything that could make his domestic political situation any more difficult than it already was.