Sunday, March 18, 2007

Norway recognizesPalestinian government; will Canada stand up?

Norway recognizes new Palestinian government
The Associated Press March 17, 2007

OSLO, Norway:
Norway recognized the new Palestinian government just minutes after it was approved Saturday, and said it would normalize relations with the Hamas-Fatah coalition.

The Scandinavian country became the first to lift restrictions imposed on the previous Hamas-led government as part of an international boycott.

"Norway welcomes the formation of the Palestinian unity government," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a statement, adding the coalition was "taking important steps towards complying with the international community's demands."

"Norway will thus on this basis re-establish political and economic relations with the Palestinian government," he said.

Norway is not a member of the European Union, but is a key player in Middle East peacemaking and one of the most steadfast contributors to the Palestinian Authority. Secret negotiations in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, led to a historic Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in 1993.

"Norway expects the Palestinian authorities to respect basic international standards as regards compliance with previously concluded agreements, renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel's right to exist," Stoere said.

He also called on Israel to "take a constructive approach to the Unity Government, for example by releasing withheld Palestinian revenues from taxes and fees and by increasing the freedom of movement for the Palestinian population."

Israel has said it will not do business with the coalition.

"We expect the international community, the U.S., the EU, to look clearly at the new government," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, noting that Norway was not an EU member.

"With all the desire we all have to assist the Palestinian people, this new government does not stand for any of the international principles that the international community itself defined," she said.

Norway's announcement came minutes after the Hamas-Fatah coalition was approved in a 83-3 parliamentary vote, clearing a final formal hurdle before taking on the challenge of persuading a skeptical world to end a crippling yearlong boycott of the Palestinian government.

The coalition replaces a government led by the Islamic militant Hamas, which carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israel and swept parliamentary elections last year. Hamas' ascent to power drew down bruising international sanctions meant to pressure it to recognize Israel and accept past peace accords.

Stoere said Norway would deal with the new Palestinian government but "upholds its demands on Hamas as an organization."

"It is essential that the Unity Government gains control of the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and that the rocket attacks on Israeli areas cease," he added.

The Norwegian foreign minister said the new Palestinian government should "make an active effort" to secure the release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied militants in June.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bjoern Jahnsen said Norway's decision means that it has lifted the restrictions on political contacts and aid it had imposed on the previous Hamas-led government.

"We've resumed normal political relations," he said.