The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations warned the Hamas-led Palestinian government Thursday that it must recognize Israel and seek peace talks if it wants to be guaranteed continued aid.
“The Quartet concurred that there inevitably will be an effect on direct assistance to that government and its ministries” if those conditions are not met, the four mediators for Middle East peace said in a statement.
The new Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar has said the new Palestinian Authority government would not give in to international pressure to change its ways and that it had no plans to negotiate with Israel.
He also condemned a decision by Canada to cut off aid to the new Hamas-led government, shortly after it was sworn in Wednesday.
The Quartet urged the new government “to commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.”
That includes the internationally backed “roadmap” for peace, drafted by the Quartet, meant to draw up a final peace accord between the two sides.
“The Quartet recalled its view that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to the principles” it had set out, the statement said.
After assessing the new government program, the four “noted with grave concern that the new government has not committed to the principles spelled out” earlier this year.
They lauded the call of President Mahmoud Abbas for the new government to commit to peaceful coexistence.
Refloating an old idea
The idea of withholding aid is not new. Since Hamas’ parliamentary election victory on Jan. 25, the West has been threatening to cut nearly $1 billion in annual aid to the Palestinians, though Russia’s recent invitation to Hamas to visit Moscow, and France’s support for the Russian approach, have cracked what was a united front.
Without money from the Arab world, Europe and the United States, a Hamas-led government would be nearly broke. March salaries are to be paid next week for approximately 140,000 government employees.
New Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razek told The Associated Press that the Palestinian Authority will have to make up the difference by increasing revenues, reducing waste and through aid from Arab countries.
“The Arab countries expressed willingness to fund a Palestinian budget and we are optimistic about that,” Razek said. “At the same time, we are optimistic the West will change its mind and talk to us. We are an elected government.”
Zahar, responding to President Bush’s statement that Washington would not give aid to a Hamas-led government unless it changed its extremist policies, said those comments were in line with massive U.S. financial backing for Israel, as well as support for the Jewish state in the United Nations.
Foreign minister: U.S. ‘committing big crimes’
“America is committing big crimes against the Arab and Islamic countries,” Zahar told The Associated Press. “This new decision will intensify the gap between the American people, American interests and the Middle East in general.”
He also said the United States is spending $3 billion a year “to expand settlements and to confiscate our rights and our land,” he said, referring to U.S. aid to Israel.
EU leaders have been at a crossroads in their dealings with Palestinians, who rely greatly on European aid but whose government is now led by a group that is on terrorist lists of both the EU and the United States.
The fate of the EU’s largest foreign aid program — worth more than $600 million — has been in the balance since Hamas’ electoral victory.
Since then, the EU has been at pains to see how their aid can remain a lifeline for 4 million destitute Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank without having to deal with the incoming Hamas government and keeping aid funds out of its coffers.
The four partners did back continued humanitarian assistance. “The Quartet encouraged continued humanitarian assistance to meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people,” the statement said.