(AFP)- EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana meets Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas as part of the European Union's new drive to try to provide impetus to the stalled Middle East peace talks.
Solana, on the second day of a six-day tour to meet regional leaders, will find out first hand from the embattled Palestinian leader in Ramallah how far he really is from putting together a government of national unity.
His visit comes amid enthusiasm in Brussels to use the EU's new found influence, rather than simply its deep reservoirs of aid, to good effect with the role of the United States in the region on the decline, reports Trend.
But it takes place at an extremely difficult time.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is struggling to build a stable coalition, and in the Palestinian territories, the Hamas-led administration and Fatah seem nowhere near to achieving an internationally acceptable government.
"I think we are in an impasse. We have still not recuperated from the summer," an EU official said, referring to Israel's twin-fronted fight against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and militants in the Gaza Strip.
In talks with Olmert on Wednesday, Solana was not reassured by the Israeli premier's pledge that there would be "no changes in his policy", despite the inclusion in his coalition of ultra-nationalist leader Avigdor Lieberman.
With the party onboard, Olmert's government now has a comfortable 78-seat majority in parliament, but Solana said: "I don't know how they are going to make it compatible with some of the positions of Lieberman."
As his ratings plummet after the Lebanon war, Olmert moved Monday to bolster his shaky six-month-old government by striking a deal with Lieberman, who draws most of his support from fellow immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
The rising star of Israel's right has caused a storm of criticism with his views, which include the transfer of land and populations to create homogenous Jewish and Palestinian states -- stances anathema to Olmert's ally Labour.
Olmert's trials are likely to surface again at a working breakfast between Solana and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or later at his talks with deputy premier Shimon Peres.
An EU diplomat said that Israel's leadership woes are "creating a sentiment in the community of a lack of classical leadership" as if the departure of Ariel Sharon had left the Jewish state "without a father."
In the Palestinian territories, meanwhile, the Hamas-led government has been left in an unprecedented political and financial crisis as Western aid dried up because the Islamist movement is on the EU and US terror blacklists.
With the EU backing Abbas, Hamas has been forced to consider a role in a government that might recognise Israel, renounce violence and respect past peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Our objective is to see if the first steps toward movement have been made, to start the beginning of movement" toward a national unity coalition, the EU diplomat explained.
"We'll see what we find and what analyses we can make first hand."
The EU has donated some 600 million euros to the Palestinians this year, more than in an average year, although the money has been sent in ways that keep it out of the hands of Hamas.
But boots on the ground in the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and on Gaza's Rafah border crossing into Egypt, not to mention a nascent Palestinian police support mission, have given the EU new diplomatic leverage.
Solana's Middle East tour, to end in Cairo on Monday, will also take him to Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.