The EU’s top envoy to the US said Monday that Europe was prepared to work with a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.

“We never said we would not,” Ambassador Joao Vale de Almeida said. “It’s a question of substance rather than the question of composition of the government.”

Still, Vale de Almeida said Europe was insisting that the new Palestinian government recognize the right for Israel to exist and the need for a negotiated peace agreement with the Jewish state. Israel broke off nearly nine months of peace negotiations in April after Palestinian Authority President Abbas endorsed the tentative unity government to end seven years of separate leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We are in favor of Palestinian recognition,” Vale de Almeida said. “We think it’s an important element in the process to bringing a long-term solution — but not at any price. It has to be based on respect for a certain number of values.”

European Union Ambassador to the US Joao Vale de Almeida. (Photo credit: AP/J. David Ake)

European Union Ambassador to the US Joao Vale de Almeida. (Photo credit: AP/J. David Ake)

Earlier Monday, the US said it would work with the new West Bank-Gaza leadership, which was sworn in on Monday afternoon, and would maintain its aid to the Palestinian Authority. It said it would be “watching closely” to ensure the new government respects the principles of non-violence.

The US position is in conflict with the official stance in Jerusalem, which outright rejects the new Palestinian leadership because Hamas remains committed to destroying Israel and is a designated terrorist organization in Israel, the US and the EU.

In strikingly bitter comments Monday night, Israeli officials said that rather than cooperating with a government backed by a terror group, Washington ought to be urging Abbas to disband his pact with Hamas and resume peace negotiations with Israel

“We are deeply disappointed by the comments of the State Department regarding working with the Palestinian unity government. This Palestinian government is a government backed by Hamas, which is a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction,” Israeli government officials said. “If the US administration wanted to advance peace, it should be calling on Abbas to end his pact with Hamas and return to peace talks with Israel,” they added. “Instead, it is enabling Abbas to believe that it is acceptable to form a government with a terrorist organization.”