CAIRO: European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner reiterated the Middle East Quartet s three conditions for releasing aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, adding that the Quartet will explore an alternative mechanism for distributing aid that bypasses the Palestinian government during its meeting in New York tomorrow.
Speaking at a press conference marking the end of her visit to Egypt, Ferrero-Waldner outlined the Quartet s conditions for Hamas: renunciation of violence, recognition of the State of Israel and its right to exist and upholding previous international agreements, namely the Oslo Accords and the Quartet s roadmap for peace.
The Quartet is comprised of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union (EU), and will be joined by foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in its meeting tomorrow. It devised its roadmap in 2003 with the aim of establishing a viable Palestinian state by 2005. Since this deadline passed the roadmap itself has expired and needs to be renewed.
The EU is one of the Palestinian Authority s largest donors, providing some 250 million euros annually to the authority and other related causes such as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The EU cut off all direct aid to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas victory in the parliamentary elections in January.
Ferrero-Waldner explains that the EU has, however, paid some 100 million euros this year to the UNRWA and towards utilities in the Palestinian territories. But the interruption of direct aid has plunged the Palestinian government into a financial crisis and crippled the Palestinian economy. In the absence of any indication that Hamas will comply with the Quartet s conditions, the EU is now investigating an international mechanism to restart the remaining aid and to channel money in the right way, to have control of the money, but also to distribute it in the right way, without giving the money to the Hamas government.
Asked if such actions are intended to force the Hamas-led government to fail, Ferrero-Waldner says: I can only speak for the European Union, and the European Union does not want the Hamas government to fail but wants the Hamas government to change according to the three principles that we have so clearly outlined … I think we have clearly put our cards on the table; I think it s now for Hamas to take them up in favor of their own population.
Ferrero-Waldner also emphasized the need for Israel to transfer taxes and tariffs it has collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The main responsibility lies, of course, first with the Palestinian government … and second also with Israel, because Israel has taxes and also customs that is Palestinian, that has to be transferred to the Palestinian people, so that is highly important, says Ferrero-Waldner.
Despite it s shunning of Hamas, and therefore of the authority s prime minister and cabinet, Ferrero-Waldner expressed continued support for the authority s president, Mahmoud Abbas, explaining that Abbas has demonstrated a commitment to peace while Hamas remains on the EU s terrorist list because it has not renounced violence.
Mahmoud Abbas … has our full confidence, says Ferrero-Waldner. He is democratically elected, so we will support his office and we will liaise with him. And I hope that he and the newly-elected government of Israel can start peace talks again in the not-too-far future.
Ferrero-Waldner met with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit during her two-day visit to Egypt and the two counterparts discussed the roadmap. The commissioner also met with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, with whom she discussed the EU s Neighborhood Policy.
Bilateral trade between Egypt and the EU is governed by an Association Agreement that provides a framework for technical cooperation. Trade ties are expected to be significantly strengthened once an Action Plan is signed within the context of the EU s Neighborhood Policy; this allows closer economic integration in exchange for economic and political reform commitments. The Association Agreement is overseen by a ministerial council which is due to meet on Jun. 13.
We have discussed the Neighborhood Policy and the Action Plan and the status of our negotiations today with the Prime Minister, says Ferrero-Waldner, and I think there is great political will both from his side and from my side to come to an agreement rather soon. And therefore I am very confident that [on] the 13th of June there will be a possibility for signature of this policy s Action Plan, which is indeed a political action to go ahead according to the Egyptian government s own reform program.
Ferrero-Waldner did not provide details of the political reform envisaged in the Action Plan, explaining that it is still being negotiated. She did, however, emphasize that the Action Plan would also include requirements for judicial reform.