21st May 2019

Former leaders tell US, EU to support Palestinian unity

  • Graffiti on a West Bank wall (Photo: amerune)

A group of prominent former politicians has called on the United States and Europe to support the reconciliation process between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, warning that failure to do so would jeopardize the prospects for peace in the region.

"If Palestinian reconciliation is undermined, it will throw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an even deeper impasse," the group said in a letter addressed to US state secretary Hillary Clinton and EU high representative Catherine Ashton on Friday (10 June).

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In May Hamas agreed to accept an Israeli state based on 1967 borders, calling a truce with Israel as part of plans to form a new unity government with Fatah.

While Ashton has indicated that the EU is willing to work with Hamas if it abides by the new terms, the US and Israel have urged Fatah to walk away from the unity agreement.

This, said the group of 24 prominent former officials, is a mistake.

"Asking Fatah to choose between making peace with Hamas and making peace with Israel presents a false choice: a lasting peace with Israel is only possible if Hamas is on board," states the letter.

The signatories include Gareth Evans (former foreign minister of Australia), Shlomo Ben Ami (former foreign minister of Israel), Hanan Ashrawi (former Palestinian negotiator), Massimo D'Alema (former prime minister of Italy), Louis Michel (former EU commissioner for development) and Hubert Védrine (former foreign minister of France).

The former leaders argue that: "Palestinian reconciliation is also an opportunity to enhance Israel's security", including by helping to consolidate a ceasefire, prevent renewed attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians and facilitate exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

In line with Israeli opinion, US President Barack Obama last month rejected Palestinian efforts to form a unity government.

"How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?" he asked, referring to Hamas' 1980s-era charter which calls for the "obliteration" of Israel, something Israeli diplomats quickly point out has yet to be deleted.

In his speech however, Obama said future Israeli-Palestinian borders should be based on lines established before the 1967 war, bringing US policy closer in line with the EU position.

The long-running efforts to secure peace between the two sides come amid ongoing turmoil in the Arab world, dividing commentators as to whether this provides a unique opportunity or challenge.

At the same time, Palestinian officials are preparing to seek full UN recognition of its statehood at a meeting in New York this September.

Ten EU countries are reportedly ready to recognise the new state, including Greece, Ireland, France, Spain and Sweden.

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