France pushed on Monday for the European Union to step up preparations for deeper ties with a Palestinian government of national unity – despite misgivings from countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
The move came as Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, called for a “more even-handed” approach from the EU and accused Israel of “provocative and illegal actions”.
The question of whether to resume contacts with and direct funding for the Palestinian Authority is set to race up the EU’s agenda as the rival Fatah and Hamas factions move closer to working together.
While France argues that the momentum of last month’s Mecca agreement to set up a unity government cannot be wasted, other countries give greater emphasis to making sure the administration fully meets international demands that it recognises Israel.
The US and Israel have much less patience for arguments that some sort of “implicit recognition” of Israel – by, for example abiding by past agreements – would be good enough for resuming ties.
“We have thought about what the EU’s attitude should be towards this new government once it is formed,” said Catherine Colonna, France’s Europe minister, at an EU foreign ministers meeting. “From the start we should take account of elements such as contacts and funding ... We should be prepared to fine-tune this position depending on the acts of the government.”
She added that she was not calling for the EU to hurry but to return to the issue in the future.
Diplomats at Monday’s meeting said that the Netherlands had given greater emphasis to the importance of the Palestinians meeting the demand to recognise Israel, while Germany is traditionally reluctant to upset its close relationship with Israel.
In unusually strong language for the PA president, a letter written on Mr Abbas’s behalf by Rafiq Husseini, his chief of staff, demanded that conditions placed on the PA be matched by reciprocal demands on Israel.
“Despite flagrant Israeli violations of previous agreements and commitments ... Israel continues to benefit from close political and trade relations with the EU, while the Palestinian people suffer the consequences of a crippling international boycott,” said the letter, to Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister.
It said recent Israeli military incursions into the West Bank, the continuing expansion of illegal settlement in occupied territory and construction work near Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque demonstrated the “sheer disregard with which the state of Israel views its commitments, both under previous agreements and toward the international community.”
The issue of funding is less pressing than that of contacts, since the EU was able to deliver €700m in aid to the Palestinians last year, despite the election of a Hamas government, largely through constructing other means of providing humanitarian assistance.
Monday also saw a delay in the announcement of the government of national unity itself. The parties had planned to reach agreement at the weekend. However, Ismail Haniya, Hamas prime minister, said Monday a deal was now not expected until the end of next week.
Although the two parties reached agreement in principle in Mecca on February 8, there are differences on the allocation of cabinet posts.
Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, said Monday he thought there was a 70 per cent chance a Palestinian unity government would be established.
“Hamas is the great winner [from the Mecca agreement],” he told foreign journalists. “Fatah accepted the agreement but I’m not sure Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] knows exactly where he is headed ... Abu Mazen is not a real leader these days.”