EU ministers split on recognising state of Palestine

EU foreign ministers were split over a proposal to recognise an independent Palestinian state at their meeting last night, and did not agree to sanctions against Israel for failing to extend the moratorium on settlements.

Instead their efforts continue to concentrate on trying to restart direct talks to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze, which the US admitted last week they had failed to achieve.

“We need to look at how to proceed,” said a spokesperson for the EU’s external action chief Catherine Ashton, adding that they regretted that the US is no longer calling for a halt to settlements but said the EU’s position has not changed.

The foreign ministers’ statement following the meeting said that urgent progress was needed towards a two-state solution, and added: “The state of Israel and the right of Palestinians to achieve statehood must never be called into question.”

They commended the work of the Palestinian authority in building the institutions of the future state of Palestine and reiterated its readiness, when appropriate, to recognise a Palestinian state.

Their statement welcomed the World Bank’s assessment that “if the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future”.

The ministers referred to the Israeli settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, as illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace and said that the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem.

“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” their statement said. The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is going to the region following the breakdown in talks and will meet Ashton in Brussels on Friday.

Minister Dick Roche raised the issue of the Gaza blockade, pointing out that six months after Israel said it would ease the situation, the supply of goods is only a third of normal levels.

There was some increase in construction materials for UNRWA, the UN body in Gaza headed by Irish man John Ging. “But it is hopelessly below what is needed to build and repair schools and infrastructure — at the present rate it would take 75 years,” Roche said.

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