JERUSALEM (Reuters) -European leaders told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that a unity government must clearly recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace deals for sanctions to end, Abbas aides said on Sunday.
“We have asked the Europeans to help us lift the sanctions but their response was that the Palestinian government must be clear in its acceptance of the Quartet conditions,” senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said after a European tour in which Abbas sought support for his power-sharing deal with Hamas Islamists.
The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations make up the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators. Western powers cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas came to power in a January 2006 election.
A unity government deal, signed earlier this month by Abbas and the Hamas movement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, contains a vague promise to “respect” Israeli-Palestinian pacts.
But the deal, which calmed internal Palestinian warfare, does not commit the incoming government to abiding by those pacts, nor to recognizing Israel and renouncing violence as the Quartet has demanded.
Erekat and other Palestinian officials said the key to ending the economic embargo was getting the United States to lift restrictions on financial dealings with the new government, as well as convincing Israel to release withheld Palestinian tax revenues.
Local, regional and international banks have balked at transferring funds directly to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas formed a government in March 2006. Bank executives say they fear running afoul of U.S. sanctions against Hamas and being locked out of U.S. financial markets.
Israeli officials have likewise said there were no plans to release any additional tax revenues. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said a week ago that he had reached agreement with President Bush to keep the boycott in place until the Quartet conditions were met.
“They (European leaders) said the Mecca deal was a step forward but the Palestinian government must be clearer in their acceptance of the Quartet principles,” Erekat said.
The unity deal has widened divisions within the Quartet.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told Abbas over the weekend that Paris would be “disposed to co-operate” with the planned unity government, bucking U.S. efforts to maintain the boycott.
But it remains to be seen whether these divisions will end up easing the sanctions in a major way.
Douste-Blazy did not say what French cooperation would entail, and described the unity government deal as the start of a process that “will have to lead to the full recognition of Israel by all the Palestinian factions, first among them Hamas.”
Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has said it will never recognize the Jewish state. But Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce in return for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.