• Ashton (r): 'With caution we are moving to try and support his [Abbas] efforts' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Ashton goes against US and Israel on Hamas

25.05.11 @ 17:40

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton has indicated the bloc is willing to work with the new Palestinian unity government despite US and Israeli opposition.

Ashton made the announcement in a press briefing in Brussels on Wednesday (25 May) about the EU's reaction to the Arab spring.

"I understand President Abbas' desire to move forward on reconciliation. We have all argued there needs to be a reconciliation and with caution we are moving to try and support his efforts. I say caution because we understand it needs to be based on principles of non-violence," she said, referring to Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas' Fatah faction reached a unity pact with Hamas, a militant group that is registered as a terrorist entity by the EU, earlier this month. Hamas has said it is unwilling to change its charter, which calls for the "obliteration" of Israel, but is prepared to hold back on armed resistance for the time being.

Ashton's open stance towards the unity government stands in opposition to the US and Israel.

US President Barack Obama in a speech on the Arab spring on 19 May said: "How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?"

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu one day before Ashton's statement told the US Congress: "Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda [Hamas]. So I say to President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas!"

His speech made a solitary and negative reference to the EU's role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Commenting on Hamas attacks following the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers from Gaza in 2005, he noted: "The European observers in Gaza evaporated overnight."

The Palestinian unity agreement comes as a prelude to Palestinian plans to seek full recognition of statehood from the UN general assembly in September, crossing another red line for the Israeli-US alliance.

For her part, Ashton indicated she will not try to steer EU countries' decision-making on the subject. But she noted that the main reason for the Palestinian move is the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"It will be up to individual countries in the general assembly that make their decision. But the challenge is that there is no alternative process going forward at the same time," she said on Wednesday.

The EU high representative has on several occasions pointed to Israeli settlement building on Palestinian land as the main impediment to talks.

"I re-iterate that the EU considers that settlement activities in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace," she said on 6 April after Israel gave settlers permission to build 942 new housing units.