EU hints to PA: Accountability no longer required
September 17, 2006
The cessation of the violence in Lebanon has enabled the EU to focus once again on the Palestinians.
The International Herald Tribune (IHT) reports that Europe is willing to over-ride previous considerations and back down from its refusal to meet with representatives of the terrorist Hamas regime:
The European Union said Friday that it would reopen talks with the new Palestinian government......But the EU foreign ministers fell short of demanding that the government formally recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace accords with Israel - three conditions for reviving the Mideast peace process set by the so-called Quartet, which is made up of the United States, the United Nations, the EU and Russia.
Experts speculate that this could be part of a "good cop, bad cop" routine being played by Western powers, in order to reverse the Palestinian spiral into terror against Israel and towards internal chaos. The Europeans have, however, hinted that Palestinian acceptance of the three Quartet demands will be an adequate pre-requisite for resumption of direct European funding.
And here lies the major concern. Accountability and transparency are cardinal pillars of the EU Constitution. The EU anti-fraud squad, OLAF, has demanded that they be adhered to - especially in dealing with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Donor funding to the PA was, in fact, stopped before Hamas came to power, due to flagrant and ongoing breaches of these requirements.
It would seem that the election of the Hamas regime has obscured this history. Despite its open use of terrorism, Hamas's electoral victory will allow a complete reversal of the previous strategy.
The result is that Europe has effectively signaled a readiness to hand over more money to the PA. And Europe has shown that it is not interested in receiving a commitment to previously agreed-upon financial reforms called for by the World Bank.
Without proper controls, the European taxpayer will yet again lose his investment, with the average Palestinian's money being directed towards corruption and the war industry.
Below is a full copy of the article from the IHT.
EU to hold talks with Palestinian Authority
By Dan Bilefsky
International Herald Tribune
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2006
BRUSSELS The European Union said Friday that it would reopen talks with the new Palestinian government, but warned that it would restore direct aid to the Palestinian Authority only after the government commits itself to peace with Israel.
But the EU foreign ministers fell short of demanding that the government formally recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace accords with Israel - three conditions for reviving the Mideast peace process set by the so-called Quartet, which is made up of the United States, the United Nations, the EU and Russia.
Instead, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja of Finland, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, expressed hope that the dynamics in the Middle East were changing. "There is a new situation which allows us to break the deadlock we have been in since the last Palestinian elections," he said.
The EU also indicated a renewed willingness to find a compromise with Iran over its nuclear program.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced Monday that his Fatah movement and the more radical Hamas group had agreed on a political platform for a new national- unity government. Abbas said he expected the new government to meet international requirements sufficiently to restore funding and aid, cut off after Hamas took power in March.
The EU also invited Abbas to talks with European leaders next week in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting.
The new willingness to talk with Hamas puts the EU at odds with U.S. policy. Both the EU and Washington define Hamas as a terrorist organization and have refused to deal with any Palestinian government that includes it. In March, Washington and the EU were united in deciding to boycott the new government because it refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.
But when asked whether the EU was now prepared to engage with Hamas, Tuomioja replied, "Yes."
EU officials said the bloc would extend by three months an emergency- aid program led by the World Bank through which the EU bypasses the Palestinian government.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external affairs commissioner, said the priority was to get a moderate government installed with which the EU could do business.
"There will be Hamas members, but also others members of civil society, so we need to look at their program and approach the process with an open mind," she said.
On Iran, the EU's foreign policy chief offered his most upbeat assessment to date, insisting that talks to persuade Iran to suspend nuclear enrichment were progressing.
"We are really making progress," Javier Solana said. He said he hoped for a new meeting with Iran's top negotiator, Ali Larijani, in the coming days.
The EU is softening its previous all-or- nothing approach that required Iran to suspend enrichment before negotiations could begin. EU officials said there was momentum behind a two-track approach of starting negotiations before or in parallel with the halting of enrichment, while simultaneously allowing the sanctions discussions to continue at the UN.
The EU's increasing willingness to open talks is a shift from its previous position and diverges from the U.S. stance, which demands suspension of enrichment before talks begin.
EU officials said they were still examining an offer by Tehran last weekend to temporarily suspend its nuclear enrichment program in return for the start of negotiations on a package of economic and political incentives offered by the West.
Iran has ignored an Aug. 31 deadline set by the UN Security Council to suspend its nuclear activities, prompting renewed calls by Washington to step up the drafting of sanctions at the UN.
But on Friday, French officials confirmed that Iran had indicated its readiness to discuss suspension. They called that a positive step.
A senior French diplomat familiar with the talks said the mood in European diplomacy toward Iran had shifted.
"Things with Iran are not as difficult as they were before," the official said, requesting anonymity to avoid breaching diplomatic protocol. "There is a growing sense that suspension and negotiations can happen in parallel and that flexibility is better than a dead end."
U.S. officials acknowledged Thursday that Washington faces resistance from key allies over its attempt to press for sanctions. President George W. Bush said Friday that he was worried Iran was trying to "wait out" the United States and its European allies.
"My concern," Bush said, "is that they'll stall, they'll try to wait us out. So part of my objective in New York is to remind people that stalling shouldn't be allowed - we need to move the process."
Solana played down the threat of sanctions and added his belief that Washington was still willing to give diplomacy a chance. "I don't think our American friends will be losing their patience," he said. "The UN resolution is a track that is still open. Dialogue will not last forever. That is not our idea."
Analysts said the EU's new approach toward the Middle East could cause trans-Atlantic discomfort. But they added that the EU was well placed to use its influence to find an outcome desired by Washington.
As the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian Authority and with its members as the biggest contributors to the multinational force in Lebanon, the EU has growing leverage with the Arab world.
Mark Leonard, a foreign policy expert at the Center for European Reform in London, said the combination of American sticks and European carrots could create tensions, but he did not foresee a serious rift.
"There is always chatter in Washington about the EU being too soft or appeasers, but there is something to be said for the 'good cop, bad cop' routine," he said.
In Paris, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy hinted that France would be ready to review sanctions against Hamas if the new government recognized Israel and renounced violence.
"If a government of national unity is established and if it takes into account the demands of the international community, I am in favor of re-evaluating our attitude concerning our political contacts and aid," Douste-Blazy said in a phone interview in Paris after returning from talks with Abbas in Ramallah.
The foreign minister also welcomed what he perceived to be a softening of Iran's refusal to suspend its enrichment program. "The talks for the first time mentioned the word 'suspension.' We think that's important," Douste-Blazy said, stressing that France remained committed to pursuing "dialogue."
Katrin Bennhold reported from Paris.
Left: Yasser Arafat