-  Thursday 02 July 2020

EU gives Hamas another chance

March 21 2006
The European Union yesterday told Hamas it still had time to avoid economic isolation and political collapse for the Palestinian Authority. But, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, diplomats acknow-ledged that international consensus over the Islamist group, which won the PA elections in January, was fragile after Israel's storming of a prison in Jericho last week and the selection of a largely partisan list of Hamas nominees for the new PA cabinet.

"We remain committed to helping the Palestinian people. We will look not only at what the new government says but also at what it does," said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU external relations commissioner, the official responsible for the European Commission's funding for the Palestinians. "The international community must remain united re-garding the crisis the Palestinian Authority is facing."

With contributions worth €500m (£345m, $610m) a year, the EU is the world's biggest donor to the Palestinians. The Commission has begun to draw up plans to redirect funding to organisations other than the PA if the new government fails to renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by past agreements.

But some EU officials are worried that Europeanpolicy - to support the caretaker Palestinian administration and tempt Hamas towards the mainstream - is being undermined by a US-Israeli push to weaken the new PA government.

While European officials have called for a broad-based government, Washington has put pressure on members of other political parties not to join the new administration.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said after yesterday's meeting the EU was disappointed that the list of nominees was not more broadly based, but added that this was because Hamas's political platform was uncompromising and unrealistic. "It means that their position is such that it cannot be accepted by any party," he said.

At the meeting Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary, came under pressure for not informing his EU colleagues before withdrawing British monitors from Jericho - the move that prompted the action by Israel last week.

Mr Straw argued that with the current turmoil in the area, the British monitors had simply been too much at risk. But diplomats from countries such as France and Sweden have emphasised that European nationals were kidnapped in the chaos following the British withdrawal and that the EU maintains two missions in the Palestinian territories that are also vulnerable to unrest. Last week, the EU's 25 members failed to agree a statement of solidarity with the UK because of London's refusal to condemn Israel's storming of the prison.

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