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Hamas and the Europeans

Noting that the EU had been accused of being too pro-Israel by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, I recently wrote that

it seems more and more possible that the recent period of relative quiet with respect to Israel might in itself suffice for Hamas to win a hearing in Europe. If money were to begin flowing again into government coffers in Gaza, the “moderates” can argue, it would strengthen their hold on the PA and make it possible, at long last, for the government to meet the Quartet’s three demands. Hamas would not even have to say this much, only to make the EU believe that this might happen at some point in the future. The EU’s readiness for a diplomatic fire sale is already evident, with France and the UK leading the push to set aside the Quartet’s three burdensome preconditions.

Despite shows of unity with their U.S. partners, the Europeans are doing just that, now that the Palestinian “national unity” government is in place. The foreign minister of Norway traveled to Gaza to confer with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, after Norway’s government recognized the new executive.

Rumor has it that the next Norwegian diplomatic move was a phone call to the EU’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, asking EU states to emulate Norway (which is not a member). The EU chose caution instead: it would judge the new government by its deeds, a spokesman said, not only by its words. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, visiting Ramallah last Friday, reiterated this message. But he did so at a joint press conference with the new Palestinian foreign minister, Ziad Abu Amr. And Italy’s undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vittorio Craxi, called Haniyeh “in his personal capacity,” but did not pay an official visit.

Next, it was the turn of Marc Otte, the EU special envoy to the Middle East, who met the new PA finance minister, Salam Fayyad (as did the U.S. consul in Jerusalem). As the International Herald Tribune reports, the Swedish foreign minister is next; the Swiss and Russian ambassadors will also meet Fayyad. Switzerland and France have invited him to visit; the UK announced that it, too, will speak to non-Hamas ministers.

Unlike Norway, the EU still has a few problems talking to the PA while Hamas is part of the government: Hamas, after all, is on the EU terror list. And the Quartet, at least officially, still stands by the Roadmap and the three preconditions that any PA government must meet for the international embargo on aid and dialogue to be ended.

But even Europe’s modest overtures are quite astonishing when one considers how Hamas itself views the new “unity” government: as the group’s leaders have repeatedly emphasized, “resistance” in all its forms will continue. True to form, Hamas followed words with deeds, and proceeded to claim responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli worker only two days after the government was sworn in.



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