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"We Hope That Hamas Will Move in the Right Direction"

In an interview with DW-TV, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external relations and european neighborhood policy, talked about the bloc's policy towards Hamas and Belarus.

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Ferrero-Waldner is waiting to hear from Hamas leaders

DW-TV: Ms. Ferrero Wald n er, the EU has froze n the fu n ds for Hamas. Is this the EU's last word o n this matter u n til Hamas recog n izes Israel a n d pursues peace?

Ferrero-Waldner: Let me state very clearly what we have done. On the one hand we have of course paid out humanitarian funds and funds for the basic needs of the Palestinian people -- and that is a great deal, 100 million euros ($127 million) at the beginning of this year -- which is much more than last year. This is almost half our total aid for the entire year. On the other hand we have frozen all the funds which go directly to the Palestinian Authority or which pass through their hands. We'll continue this policy until some final decisions have been made. Hamas as an organization is on the list of terrorist organizations and still hasn't recognized important principles. We hope that a Hamas government will move in the right direction. I'd just like to quickly name the three principles, as they are all important: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist and accepting earlier agreements made by the Palestinian authority like the Oslo Accords and the Road Map which charts the pathway towards a two-state solution.

But that's a slightly stra n ge sig n al. O n the o n e ha n d fu n ds are bei n g withheld, but o n the other ha n d you are looki n g for ways to still bri n g fi n a n cial be n efits to the Palesti n ia n s. Is n 't there a da n ger that Palesti n ia n s will thi n k: "Okay, as Hamas we are still hostile towards Israel , but we'll still receive the mo n ey?"

We cannot remain indifferent to the needs of the population. So we are trying to find ways of getting funds to them directly in future. It is not always easy to explain this to people, but I think that this dual strategy is very important. Of course our primary goal is to see Hamas and the government change its stance and recognize our principles, which are also the basic principles of the international community.

The EU is mai n ly cou n ti n g o n Palesti n ia n Preside n t Mahmoud Abbas. He is a member of the Fatah moveme n t, which lost the electio n s whe n Hamas was democratically elected. Is it perhaps a ill-co n ceived strategy to keep backi n g Abbas although he represe n ts a moveme n t that the Palesti n ia n s are tired of because of its susceptibility to corruptio n ?

Ministerpräsident Ismail Hanija Palästina

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in front of pictures of President Mahmoud Abbas and late President Yasser Arafat

Well, it is a fact that Mahmoud Abbas was elected as president in presidential elections that were absolutely free and fair. We need to appreciate this and also recognize the elections that brought Hamas to power. But President Abbas is accepted by the international community. He is a man who wants to drive the peace process forward. So it is obvious that in these circumstances we'll try to work with him and through him. But I think that it is really essential to reinforce his position, because he needs our help in gaining the expertise on how to really conduct the business of a presidential office. We are basically prepared to offer him our know-how at this point.

You say you wa n t to help the people i n specific ways, so what is the EU actually doi n g i n the Palesti n ia n territories?

Palästinensische Arbeiter am Bau

Palestinians need help to rebuild infrastructure

We're doing a lot of work on the ground, but the most important issue is to help the refugees. They are the poorest of the poor. Here we cooperate closely with the United Nations relief organization for Palestine refugees, which is working in the area to help these people. As far as we are able, we are trying to meet the basic humanitarian needs, including energy and water. We are also involved in providing food and education and health care. Adequate medical care is an essential issue in meeting basic needs. These are the most important things. Of course, we have also sought to press ahead with infrastructure projects and we have also tried to help with a transparent government or institution formation, as we call it. And if I may be allowed to tackle another issue in connection with funding: people are always asking what the European Union is doing. The best thing would be for Israel to start transferring funds again, for this is really Palestinian money in the form of duties and tax income. Perhaps it will be possible in future to organize this through an international monitoring mechanism. Then we can say that the funds are being monitored and transactions are transparent and no money is going to the Hamas government.

Hamas' victory has dealt a major blow to what was already a shaky Middle East peace process. Ca n we expect the EU to prese n t a n ew i n itiative i n the n ear future?

We are currently seeking to clarify these financial issues. We believe that this is important for the general population. The Middle East Quartet is due to meet in New York on May 9 and we will certainly continue to discuss our joint strategy there. I believe that it is very important that Mahmoud Abbas has an opportunity to get in contact with the new Israeli government so that the two sides can move the peace process forward despite the difficulties of the current situation. We will do all we can in this regard.

Wahlen Weißrussland Alexander Lukaschenko

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

The Middle East is n ot the o n ly area faci n g a crisis, but there is also o n e right o n our doorstep i n Europe . Followi n g the re-electio n of the autocrat a n d despot Alexa n der Lukashe n ko, the situatio n i n Belarus is serious a n d the mai n oppositio n leader Alexa n der Mili n kevich has bee n arrested. Ca n we expect a n y sig n al from the EU?

Well, as you saw, I reacted immediately. We are naturally watching the situation very closely. Milinkevich and some of his supporters in the opposition were detained to prevent any demonstrations taking place on May 1. We shall have to see if there is any other action that we can take in future such as freezing credit. We are keeping our options open and we will see how the European Union will react at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers or later. I would prefer not to say too much at this stage, but we are following the situation very closely. I think it is very important not to abandon the Belarusian people.

Alexander Kudascheff interviewed Benita Ferrero-Waldner (win)

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