Israeli minister says no EU about face on Hamas - yet

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday said the European Union is sticking to its position that the incoming Palestinian government meet international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but left open the prospect the Europeans could soften their stance in the future.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Livni played down an EU statement last week that said the nascent Palestinian coalition must adopt policies "reflecting" the long-standing demands of the "Quartet" of Mideast peace makers the U.S., EU, Russia and U.N.

The language in the statement has raised concerns in Israel that the EU is easing its commitment to the Quartet's principles as the rival Fatah and Hamas factions try to cobble together a government.

Livni said the EU statement did not represent any softening of its commitment to the Quartet conditions, but acknowledged things could change.

"The Europeans expect any Palestinian government to meet the Quartet conditions. Europe is a partner in the Quartet," Livni said. "At the moment Europe has not changed its position and I hope it will not do so soon."

She spoke from Washington, where she is meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In a power-sharing accord brokered by Saudi Arabia last month, Hamas and the more pragmatic Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to form a coalition government that would "respect" past peace agreements. But Hamas refuses to explicitly recognize Israel or abandon armed conflict.

Abbas, a moderate who is supported by the West, has been trying to persuade Quartet members to accept the unity deal, saying it is the best he can get out of Hamas.

Hamas defeated Fatah in legislative elections last year, giving it control over most government functions. But its anti-Israel positions led the international community to freeze direct aid to the Palestinian government, reports AP.

The sanctions, along with an Israeli cutoff in tax transfers to the Palestinians, have left the government unable to pay the salaries of its 165,000 workers.

EU officials say they are waiting to see the policy platform of the new government before deciding on future relations, including a possible restoration of aid.

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