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20th Apr 2018

Palestinian diplomats await EU backing for unity government

  • Rocket damage in Sderot. Keidar: 'Not many here ... think like me' (Photo: The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Palestinian diplomats have said the EU is likely to back a new deal between rival political factions Fatah and Hamas despite Israel's opposition.

Speaking to EUobserver on Thursday (28 April) following the surprise announcement of a new Hamas-Fatah national unity government, Xavier Abu Eid, an adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), said the reconciliation pact fits in with stated EU policy.

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"The new Palestinian government will respect all previous PLO agreements, including the Road-map commitment to an end to violence and the Arab Peace Initiative, and it will move toward establishing a Palestinian state on 1967 borders," he said. "How could the EU come out against a government that has the same policies as the EU itself on this region? I don't think that is an option."

He indicated the new agreement will trump Hamas' old charter, which supports armed resistance against Israel.

"Hamas as a movement might have a document calling for armed struggle, but as part of a unity government, it will have to respect the law and it will have to respect the Roadmap," he explained. "Israel is saying we have to choose between peace and Hamas. But Hamas is part of Palestinian society, it's part of our people. They must respect the choice of the Palestinian people and see Hamas as part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Husam Zomlot, a deputy commissioner in Fatah's international relations commission, told this website that he already has positive "signals" from the EU side.

"The signals we are getting is that Europe has learned over the past five years that you should not put obstacles in the path of national reconciliation," he said.

"Europe today is not the Europe of 2006 [when it cut off all official contacts with Hamas]. There is a much more co-ordinated position between France, Germany and the UK. Europe is no longer just following the US and Israeli line. It is more active and more aggressive in terms of pursuing its own policy for the region."

The national unity agreement was announced in Cairo on Wednesday and is to be formally signed in the post-revolutionary Egyptian capital next week.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a preliminary statement on Thursday noted that the EU "has consistently called for peace and reconciliation ... leading to an end to the division between the [Fatah-controlled] West Bank and [Hamas-controlled] Gaza." It added: "We will study the detail of this agreement and discuss with colleagues in the EU and in the region."

An EU diplomat told this website: "Officially we support national reconciliation. But it's not going to be easy - the Israelis have made their opinion very clear and I don't think there will be much flexibility on the American side."

He added there is talk in Brussels about taking Hamas off the EU terrorist register: "A number of EU countries that deliver humanitarian aid to [Hamas-controlled] Gaza already have contacts with them, even if it's not at the official level. But you don't take such a decision lightly."

The US has declined to support or reject the unity plan for now.

But Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have denounced it. Noting that the US labels Hamas as a terrorist entity, Netanyahu told visiting US congressmen in Israel on Thursday that Hamas is the same type of group as Islamist extremists Al-Qaeda.

"Israel would not recognise any government in the world that included members from Al-Qaeda," he said. Lieberman added: "This agreement crosses a red line ... it has always been known that no talks can be held with groups calling for Israel's destruction."

The national unity deal is also troubling for Israel because it increases the likelihood the PLO will in September apply to join the UN as a fully fledged member on the basis of borders established after the 1967 Six-Day War - a move leaving swathes of Israeli settlements on the Palestinian side.

EU and Palestinian diplomatic sources said that eight-or-so EU countries already support the September initiative due to the years-long impasse in bilateral Israeli-Palestinian talks on a final settlement.

The EU countries are said to include Greece, Ireland, France, Spain and Sweden. Norway, outside the EU, is also on board, with the UK "getting close to this point."

For her part, Roni Keidar - who helps to run a pro-peace NGO in Sderot, a small Israeli town frequently hit by rockets out of Gaza - voiced openness toward the Palestinian pact.

"There will be no way for any kind of real solution unless we talk to Hamas as well," she said. "The last time there was an escalation in fighting and we had all these rockets, I was frantic. I knew my grandchild was outside and my husband was out in the fields and I was beside myself. I was in a terrible state. We can't go on like this for ever."

She warned: "Not many here in Sderot think like me. Most people say the only way is to use violence against them."

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