|Egpyt, Jordan urge compliance with 'Quartet' demands
|Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II urged opposing Palestinian factions on Sunday to take steps to help end a crippling embargo on the Palestinian government and to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Abdullah stopped in Cairo before heading to Saudi Arabia.
Mubarak's spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, said that both leaders want the Fatah and Hamas factions to "speak in one voice and put the national interests of the Palestinians above their own." He said Mubarak and Abdullah also urged that a coalition government agreement signed by the rival Palestinian factions be implemented "in good faith."
The power-sharing deal reached in Mecca earlier this month between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and members of Hamas skirts the key demands of the "Quartet" of Middle East peace negotiators that any new government must give up violence, recognize Israel and accept existing agreements reached with Israel.
Western powers, led by the United States, have said they won't lift the international sanctions against the Palestinians unless the new government explicitly meets those demands.
"The political and economic siege, which both Egypt and Jordan want to end, will not be lifted by statements but by Palestinian policies that make the Quartet shoulder its responsibility in sponsoring the peace process," Awwad said.
Abdullah's stop in Egypt came a day after an Israeli television station aired an interview in which the king appealed to the Palestinian government to accept conditions set by the Quartet, which includes the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU.
The US and Israel have expressed skepticism over the agreement to form a unity Palestinian government but have said they would withhold judgment until it is formed.
But Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Mashaal said Friday in Cairo that the Quartet's efforts have reached a dead end.
After Egypt, Abdullah is expected to fly to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with the Saudi monarch ahead of talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday. He is expected to meet with US President George W. Bush and other administration officials later this week in Washington.
Meanwhile, Abbas aides said on Sunday that European leaders had told Abbas that a unity government must meet international demands.
"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 the unity government deal.
Western powers cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas came to power following a January 2006 election.
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. "They [European leaders] said the Mecca deal was a step forward but the Palestinian government must be clearer in its 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 cooperate" with the planned unity government, bucking US efforts to maintain the boycott.
But it remains to be seen whether these divisions will end up easing the sanctions in any 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 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.
The EU's external relations commissioner said on Sunday that she will seek in a four-day trip to the Middle East to encourage the formation of an internationally acceptable Palestinian government with the prospect of new aid.
The bloc plans to expand aid to a current temporary mechanism to needy Palestinians, and is considering new channels to help some Palestinian institutions and the economy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a phone interview.
These programs could get under way before the EU decides whether or not to provide direct aid to the unity government, she added.
The Daily Star