SALZBURG, Austria, (Reuters) – The European Union will study on Friday how to maintain much-needed economic aid to the Palestinians while putting pressure on a future Hamas-led government to change the militant group’s stance on Israel.
The European Union has kept up short-term aid but officials warn that funding could soon be jeopardised unless Hamas, on the bloc’s list of terrorist groups, recognises Israel and renounces violence. Hamas’s charter calls for Israel’s destruction.
Options to be discussed by EU foreign ministers at talks in Austria include re-routing aid through Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, creating a new disbursement agency independent of the Palestinian Authority, or using non-governmental groups.
“We must find ways to support the Palestinian people,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Austrian daily Der Standard ahead of the two-day meeting in the city of Salzburg.
“We want to see to it that we can maintain what has taken us so many years to build up — namely, a Palestinian Authority which is the embryo of a state which we must complete, and which one day will exist,” he told the newspaper.
Diplomats say ministers may consider continuing limited payments to the Palestinian Authority, at least for a trial period, to give Hamas — which scored a landslide win in January elections — an incentive to change its stance once in office.
Solana and the executive European Commission will present a joint paper reviewing different forms of EU assistance to the Palestinians, but officials said no concrete decisions were expected for the time being.
“We will be in wait-and-see mode until the formation of the new Palestinian government,” said Solana’s spokeswoman Cristina Gallach. “There will be a reaffirmation of our existing principles and I do not expect any alteration of that line.”
A so-called Quartet of international mediators — the United States, the EU, Russia and the United States — says Hamas must recognise Israel, renounce violence and respect past agreements.
The United States and Israel cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority when Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas was nominated as prime minister.
But the 25-nation EU gave the Palestinians a short-term lifeline, releasing 120 million euros ($143 million) in aid that mostly bypassed the Palestinian Authority.
Solana renewed calls on Israel to restore to the Palestinian Authority payments of customs duties worth $60 million a month which it cut off following Hamas’s election victory.
“Israeli should give President Mahmoud Abbas the money. Because that money belongs to the Palestinians,” he said.
Hamas leaders have been touring Arab and other countries seeking support. Hamas said on Thursday it would send a delegation to Saudi Arabia.