EU won't cut PA aid yet, demands Hamas reform

Hanieh pleads with international community not to cut off funding to the PA while Nazzal brushes warnings aside.

The US and Europe have similar views about aid for a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday in London as she tried to persuade other nations to cut off assistance to a government led by Hamas. "Everybody is saying exactly the same thing," Rice said amid meetings with other diplomats on Hamas's election victory last week and its impact on Middle East diplomatic efforts. "There has got to be a peaceful road ahead. You cannot be on one hand dedicated to peace, and on the other dedicated to violence. Those two things are irreconcilable." Rice's comments came prior to a meeting of the Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia.
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Speaking for the Quartet of would-be, peace-making nations, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that members of the future Hamas-led PA government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and accept existing agreements. Annan said Hamas must set up a government that is committed to the rule of law, to tolerance and to sound, fiscal management. Despite Rice's comments about "everybody saying the same thing," the tenor of remarks about Hamas coming from the US and Europe differed somewhat Monday. "The Hamas Party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel to exist," US President George W. Bush said in Washington. "And I have made it clear, so long as that's their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas. We want to work with a government that is a partner in peace, not whose declared intentions might be the destruction of Israel." Rice, moreover, ruled out any US financial assistance to a government led by Hamas. The EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels earlier in the day were somewhat less adamant, making it clear that they would give Hamas some time before cutting off aid. In a statement released after the meeting, the foreign ministers said: "Violence and terror are incompatible with democratic processes and urged Hamas and all other factions to renounce violence, to recognize Israel's right to exist and to disarm." The ministers said the EU expected the newly elected Palestinian Legislative Council "to support the formation of a government committed to a peaceful and negotiated solution of the conflict with Israel based on existing agreements and the road map, as well as to the rule of law, reform and sound fiscal management. On this basis the European Union stands ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state building." Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plasnik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told journalists the EU was aware of the Palestinians' difficult financial situation. "We think that everybody should make a concerted effort, so the Palestinian Authority can function," she said. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said before the EU foreign ministers meeting that Hamas faced a "big choice" as an organization, as "elections and democracy entail responsibility. You cannot have violence and democracy at the same time." Straw advocated a wait-and-see approach on whether to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority - separate from the humanitarian aid that is funneled through UN relief agencies. "We have an opportunity to pause and to think about it," he said, adding that a decision would come after Hamas formed its government and clarified its position on Israel. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU was facing a difficult decision. "We don't want a Palestinian Authority that collapses. At the same time, we have to reinforce our benchmark," she said, adding, "The ball here is clearly in the court of Hamas." Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "welcomed" the EU statement, saying there was a "growing international consensus that it is impossible to continue with business as usual with the PA following the Hamas victory." "The organized international community is placing a clear list of demands before the Palestinian leadership, and if that leadership does not want to turn the PA into a pariah regime, it will have to act to meet those just demands," Regev said. Nevertheless, other diplomatic sources in Jerusalem admitted some disappointment at the EU statement, saying that although it did place clear demands on Hamas, it was not strong enough and did not come close to what German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday: that Europe should not fund the PA as long as Hamas did not recognize Israel and disarm. Meanwhile, Prime Minister's Office spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said Monday Israel had made a temporary decision not to transfer $60 million in taxes and custom revenue on Friday to the PA until it was clear that the money would not end up in the hands of terrorists. "This is not a sweeping decision, but a temporary one, until we know that the money will go only to its intended destination, and not to hands involved in terrorism," he said. Government officials have been saying for days that although the money was scheduled to be transferred on February 3, Israel could hold up payment for a few days to see how things developed inside the PA. Daniel Kennemer contributed to this report.