EU vows to keep helping Palestinians

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 02-Mar-07 | Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, left, in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007.

The European Union will never halt aid to the Palestinian people even if a new Hamas-led unity government fails to meet conditions set by the "Quartet," its external relations commissioner said Thursday. "A national unity government will have to respond to the Quartet's principles," Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters in Amman, a day after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We have never abandoned the Palestinian people ... and even if the [unity] government did not meet these requirements we will not abandon the Palestinian people," she said.

Fatah and Hamas struck a deal last month to form a unity government aimed at ending a Western boycott imposed on the former Hamas government.

The Quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - is demanding that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor previous interim peace deals. It says it is awaiting the formation of the new government before deciding whether to lift the sanctions.

"We are reaching out to one-quarter of the Palestinian population," she said in Amman of European Commission social allowances handed out to Palestinian people who have suffered loss of income as a result of the international sanctions.

"They absolutely need it in this very difficult moment ... and we are trying to help them in this very difficult situation," she added.

She said in a separate interview that the EU believes final-status issues such as Jewish settlements on occupied territory need to be addressed soon to encourage Palestinian support for Arab-Israeli peace talks.

"For the Palestinians it is highly important to also speak about the political horizon ... That means final-status issues in order to really see that things can be going for the future," she said.

Egypt, Jordan and some major European governments are pushing for a quick jump toward negotiations on details of a future Palestinian state, including its borders.

The Quartet will meet soon in Egypt to discuss stepping up diplomatic efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, Ferrero-Waldner said.

The meeting would be followed by talks with the so-called "Arab Quartet" that comprises Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, she added.

Diplomats say the Arab Quartet has been pushing Washington and the Europeans to get Israel engaged on an Arab initiative launched in 2002 that would trade diplomatic recognition for Israel's withdrawal from land it occupied in the 1967 war.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the Jewish state cannot accept the initiative as it stands, according to an interview published in a Palestinian newspaper on Thursday.

Livni told Al-Ayyam that Arab countries had introduced new clauses to the Saudi peace initiative on the fate of Palestinian refugees making it "impossible to accept in its current form."

"The Saudi initiative was initially a positive sign but since the hard-liners ... added points going against a solution based on two states, it has become unacceptable to us in its current form," she added.

Other than the refugee issue, which the Arab plan wants solved based on Resolution 194 giving all Palestinian refugees the right to return and which Israel rejects, Livni cited the borders of a future Palestinian state as another point of contention.

"The borders should be discussed in the framework of future negotiations because a Palestinian state did not exist in 1967," she said. "Nor were the West Bank and the Gaza Strip connected; the first was part of Jordan and the second, Egypt."

Meanwhile, an Israeli military raid into Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank, ended Thursday, the military said, after soldiers scoured the crowded Old City for militants and kept tens of thousands of residents confined to their homes by a curfew.

Nablus Governor Kamal Sheikh said the Israeli jeeps and bulldozers began leaving the city late in the morning and by afternoon were all gone.

Before the pullout, Israeli troops exchanged gunfire with men in a mosque and stormed an apartment building where gunmen were thought to be hiding.

Troops raiding the outlying Al-Faraa refugee camp at dawn Thursday traded shots with three Palestinians holed up in a mosque there, the army and Palestinian officials said. The army said the three men fired at troops from inside the mosque, and that soldiers returned fire.

The army said it arrested 10 wanted militants during the operation. One Palestinian civilian was killed.

Palestinian leaders have charged that the raid was an Israeli attempt to undermine Palestinian efforts to form a unity government. - Agencies