BRUSSELS - Javier Solana, the coordinator of foreign policy for the European Union, asked not to be interviewed this time. He prefers to wait a few days to see what kind of government is formed in Israel, and where it is heading. He and his colleagues in the leadership of the Quartet (the EU, the UN, the United States and Russia, responsible for the implementation of the road map) hope things will become clear before May 9, the date set for a brainstorming session with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The discussion will focus on the road map's status in light of the transfer of the Palestinian Authority government to Hamas.
Some EU members here are wondering out loud about the need to update the international community's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some think the role of the Quartet has ended. They all share the anxiety of the neighboring Arab countries that the victory of Hamas is arousing the appetite of its brothers, the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shared his idea of disbanding the Egyptian Parliament and holding new elections this coming December, before the Islamists gather more strength.
In the only statement he was willing to make on the record last Wednesday, in his spacious office in EU headquarters in Brussels, the Spanish statesman said that he expects the government of Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to invite PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) for political negotiations. Even after the Hamas victory in the parliamentary elections, and perhaps because of the victory, Solana considers Abu Mazen a lifeline for the political process.
In order to learn his opinion about the alternative - unilateral steps - he suggests perusing the situation analysis that he presented to the members of the European Parliament two weeks ago. Solana told them that the most worrisome thing about the peace process is that the Israeli elections indicate a strengthening of the desire for separation and a lack of willingness to speak to the Palestinians about the borders.
"That is not a solution for someone who, like us, supports negotiations," he said.
Solana did not make do with general declarations condemning unilateral steps that are liable to undermine a two-state solution. He announced that the EU intends to follow developments in the field closely, mainly in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, even after the construction of the fence. As he also told Olmert, he expects Israel to transfer to the PA all the tax money it has collected for them.
"This is Palestinian money," he said.
At EU headquarters there will be no tears shed over the departure of defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who is considered responsible for the economic siege on the territories and the violation of the agreements on border crossings. They hope that Defense Minister-designate Amir Peretz will show more respect for the previous government's commitment to enable the passage of convoys between Gaza and the West Bank.
No peace process - no money
The office of Marc Otte, the EU special representative for the Middle East peace process, is located in a small building not far from the spacious headquarters of his boss, Solana. He spends his time here when there is nobody in Jerusalem to talk to on matters that are not of utmost importance, such as the question of who will be the infrastructure minister, or which party will get the Interior Ministry. But unlike Solana, Otte certainly has something to say to the government about to be formed.
We took into account the fact that during the election campaign, it was hard for the government to transfer the tax money to the Palestinians, says Otte, but according to the agreement, this money belongs to them, and we made it clear to the Israeli government that it cannot keep the money.
In regard to the violation of the crossings agreement, Otte is also outspoken in his condemnation: If Israel does not want to buy products from the Gaza Strip, we will buy them, he continues. But let the businessmen work. They are the last ones who are interested in terror attacks. Don't forget that 55 percent of the Palestinians did not vote for Hamas.
He does not believe in concrete walls, nor in various types of disengagements.
The Israelis want to build a wall and imagine that there are no people behind it, says Otte. That is an illusion. Everything will come back to them. You cannot lock the door and throw away the key. Don't you see what is happening in Gaza? Missile technology can be smuggled into the West Bank, too, and from there communities in the center of the country can be shelled. What will you achieve by destroying the Palestinian infrastructure? The donor countries are tired of paying the bills. The donations were part of a peace process, and increasingly we are hearing the question as to why we have to continue paying when there is no peace process.
If the conditions are not ripe for negotiations about the final status agreement, Otte says that he knows of a more modest plan, which is based on the evacuation of isolated settlements in coordination with the Palestinian side, while providing guarantees that the border determined by Israel will not be a final border - an arrangement like that of the European supervisors in Rafah, to be implemented on the Israeli-Jordanian border, the opening of a seaport in Gaza, and passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. If Hamas does not accept the minimal conditions, including recognition of Israel, Israel can carry out the plan in coordination with Abu Mazen, and thus strengthen his position.
Otte is completely at peace with the EU decision to stop the monthly donation for funding PA activities. As long as Hamas has not acted to remove itself from the list of terrorist organizations, no European element would want to take a risk of being put on trial for supporting a terror organization. To e-mails from European citizens protesting the cessation of assistance, he replies that just as the Palestinians have the right to reexamine their positions and choose whomever they want, the EU is allowed to reexamine its positions and choose whom to support. And by the way, wonders Otte, whatever happened to the promises of the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, to help the Muslim Brotherhood in the territories?
However, Otte does not believe that economic distress will hasten the downfall of Hamas. Moreover, he is entirely unconvinced that the fall of Hamas and new elections would restore Fatah to the government. He draws encouragement from the fact that all the new ministers have decided to keep their distance from Hamas and that they support a free market.
Otte mentions that even the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) took 15 years before agreeing to recognize Israel.
He is aware that it is more difficult for messianic organizations to become flexible in their positions, but perhaps a combination of moderate pressure and carrots will do their work.
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