BREMEN, Germany, (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers backed an Arab peace initiative on Saturday and agreed to engage with ministers of the new Palestinian national unity government who are not members of the Islamist Hamas movement.
They voiced full support for the Arab plan revived at a summit in Riyadh this week offering Israel peace and relations in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Arab land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war and a solution the Palestinian refugee problem. “The international community should not lose that opportunity (for peace). We have already lost many opportunities,” Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters after the EU ministers discussed the Middle East. “We have a pragmatic position to deal with all interlocutors that are not members of Hamas … The finance minister, the interior minister and the foreign minister are not members of Hamas,” he said, at the meeting in Bremen, Germany.
The 27-nation EU boycotted the Hamas-led government formed last year because it refused to recognise Israel, renounce violence of accept past peace accords. The EU has pressed for a Palestinian unity government.
The government formed this month between President Mahmoud Abbas’ moderate nationalist Fatah party and Hamas agreed to respect past agreements but Hamas insisted it would not recognise the Jewish state or renounce armed resistance.
European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has invited Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, a respected independent technocrat, to Brussels on April 11 to discuss ways of channelling aid to the Palestinians. “It is important that we prepare for the future, also on (the) financial question,” she said on Saturday.
But she has cautioned against expecting an overnight resumption of direct assistance, saying a temporary mechanism to distribute aid bypassing the government would have to remain in place for a while longer.
EU officials said the ministers agreed the bloc would step up efforts in the Quartet of international mediators grouping the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations to revive peace efforts.
They would also press for cooperation with a newly-formed Arab Quartet formed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who left on Saturday on a three-day trip to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, was downbeat on prospects for early progress. “Now we must see how much movement we can get from this for the peace process in the Middle East. Although I think there is a very long, hard stretch ahead of us,” she said in Berlin.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the new Palestinian government would be judged on its deeds.
Participants said Ferrero-Waldner briefed the ministers on proposals for shifting more of the assistance from monthly subsistence allowances for 150,000 Palestinian families to rebuilding institutions that could help economic recovery.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, another political independent, will visit Paris next week.