|EU aid to continue if Hamas commits to seeking peace
|The European Union is ready to continue aid to the Palestinians as long as a future Hamas-led government commits itself to seeking peace with Israel, foreign ministers of the bloc said on Monday.
Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas urged foreign donors to lift threats to cut vital aid but the United States refused, saying it would not directly aid the militant group.
In a joint statement, the EU foreign ministers said in Brussels they expected the new Palestinian Legislative Council to back the creation of a government "committed to a peaceful and negotiated solution of the conflict with Israel".
"On this basis the EU stands ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state-building," it said in the statement, adding that the EU wanted to see a commitment to the rule of law and sound financial management.
EU countries appear unwilling to make direct threats to cut off aid to the cash-strapped territories, preferring to see if Hamas can be convinced to abandon a pledge in its charter to work for the destruction of the Jewish state.
"It would be counterproductive today to make threats, knowing that the government is not yet constituted," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before meeting other members of the Middle East peace-broking Quartet that the U.S. won't give direct aid to a Hamas-led government, but promised to consider the needs of the Palestinian people on a case-by-case basis.
"You have to recognize Israel's right to exist, you have to renounce violence and terrorism. You can't with one hand talk about peace with Israel and on the other hand countenance suicide bombers," she told a news conference in London.
In Ramallah, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Abbas that Berlin would not fund a Hamas-led PA unless the faction fundamentally altered its guiding principles.
"We expect all political forces that assume responsibilities ... to firstly recognize Israel's right to exist, secondly not resort to violence ... and thirdly accept committed steps in the peace process and continue this process," she told a joint news conference.
Abbas, however, made clear his opposition to any attempt to reduce funding in the wake of the election result.
"Our talks focused on the need to continue this aid so that our people can stand on their own feet," he told Merkel.
Abbas also made clear he will not stand down after his Fatah Movement's heavy defeat at the hands of Hamas and vowed "to continue implementing my political program", which includes a commitment to a negotiated settlement with Israel, until the end of his term in 2009.
Ismail Haniyya, a Hamas leader in Gaza, earlier urged foreign donors to continue to send money to the Palestinian Finance Ministry.
"We call on you to understand the priorities of our people at this stage and continue the spiritual and financial support in order to push the region toward stability rather than pressure and tension," he told reporters.
But asked about disarming, Haniyya said the EU had to understand "Palestinian reality" and not press demands that "increase the suffering of our people who are looking for freedom, right of (refugee) return and independence."
Haniyya, promising reforms and anti-corruption moves, called on the Quartet to open a dialogue with Hamas and show "neutrality and fairness."
Mohammad Nazzal, a Hamas leader in Damascus, told Al-Arabiyya television "the Americans and the European Union are dreaming if they think they can force us to change our positions."
Asked whether she thought the EU would take a softer line on Hamas, Rice said she believed members of the Quartet were "saying exactly the same thing."
"There has got to be a peaceful road ahead and a peaceful road has certain requirements. You can't have peace on the one hand and be dedicated to violence," said Rice.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Hamas now faced an important choice.
"They have to change their methods and they have to accept that violence is incompatible with democracy," Solana told AFP.
With Hamas' agenda still unclear, both Abbas and the Israelis have turned to Egypt for help.
Abbas was expected in Egypt on Tuesday, after a stopover in Jordan. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is to meet with Egyptian officials in Cairo on Wednesday.
The Daily Star