10th Dec 2023

Brussels takes cautious line on Hamas victory

Brussels has reacted with caution to election results from the Palestinian territories, indicating a huge win for the islamist Hamas faction, branded by the EU as a terrorist organisation.

With a majority of votes counted on Thursday (26 January), Hamas seemed to be heading for a shock win in the Palestinian parliamentary elections.

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Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei and his cabinet, belonging to the secular Fatah party early on Thursday morning announced their resignation, while later dismissing an offer from Hamas to form a coalition government, according to media reports.

The EU, the biggest provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority, said it would work with any Palestinian government that is committed to peace.

"We are happy to work with any government if that government is prepared to work by peaceful means," said external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner in a statement.

"In holding competitive and credible elections the Palestinians have shown their commitment to determine their political future via democratic means," she added.

On questions about how the EU would explain that it could consider working with an organisation placed on the EU's own terror list, a commission spokesperson answered that technically, the partner would not be Hamas.

"We do not work with political parties," the spokeswoman told a press conference in Brussels.

"Our relationship is with the Palestinian Authority. We hope to continue to work with an authority that stands by its commitment to peace. If it breaches those commitments then we will have to review where we stand."

EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana expressed his disquiet by acknowledging that "these results may confront us with an entirely new situation," but would not suggest any concrete moves before an EU foreign ministers meeting set for next Monday.

Member states not so lenient with Hamas

But member state politicians lined up to express their concern at the situation.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, lamented the victory of Hamas, saying the outcome of the elections was a "very, very, very bad result."

"If this news was confirmed, everything we had hoped for, that chance for peace between Israel and Palestine, is postponed to who knows when," Mr Berlusconi indicated.

UK foreign minister Jack Straw urged the militant group to renounce violence and recognise Israel, saying "Hamas has to understand that with democracy goes renunciation of violence."

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there were two conditions for the EU to work with Hamas.

"The forces that join the government must renounce violence," he said according to German public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, adding that the second condition was respecting Israel's right to exist.

Swedish foreign minister Laila Freivalds indicated according to Swedish media "The EU cannot cooperate with a regime which doesn't distance itself from violence and which does not recognise Israel’s right to exist."

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EPP-ED conservative MEP Elmar Brok pleaded for extra pressure on Hamas, stating "European Union funding for Palestine has to be stopped, if Hamas as the party in government does not renounce violence and its aim to destroy Israel."

But British conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, a member of the European Parliament's 30 member strong delegation observing the Palestinian elections, said that the peaceful election offered a sign of hope.

"One hopeful pointer as to the future disposition of Hamas is the fact that it has held to its promise of several months to uphold a ceasefire," he indicated.

"It may take several weeks for the new Palestinian government to take shape - and even then it will probably have to tread water until the outcome of Israel's March general election is clear".

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