Continued development of West Bank settlements is the “key and most serious
concern” with respect to the peace process, EU foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton said on Tuesday, in an address to the European Parliament in
She began her speech by condemning the massacres of civilians
in Syria. But mid-way through she moved to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
saying that regional events made it more important, not less, to arrive at a
“Ending the conflict remains a top priority,” Ashton
Settlements “put current peace efforts at risk” and are illegal
under international law, she said.
Ashton called on both Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to
resume negotiations toward a final-status agreement.
“The Middle East
peace process is not making the progress we all want,” she said.
prospects for a two state solution are being undermined by developments on the
ground,” she said. “Proposals for new settlements around east Jerusalem, the
lack of Palestinian involvement in Area C, the growth of settlements in the West
Bank, settler violence and the financial situation of the Palestinian Authority
all threaten the viability of a two state solution,” Ashton said. (Under the
Oslo Accords, Area C is under full Israeli security and civil control.) Ashton
noted that she had already condemned Israel’s plan, which the government
announced last week, to build 851 new homes in the settlements. Ashton asked the
government to reverse its decision.
The EU opposes Israeli development of
Area C, and wants to see progress with respect to Palestinian development of
that area, she said.
“Development of Area C is critical to the viability
of a future Palestinian state. Israel needs to help and facilitate this with
concrete and pragmatic steps,” she said.
The EU will not recognize any
change to the pre-1967 lines, including with respect to Jerusalem, unless both
parties agree to it, Ashton said.
“We are also seriously concerned by
recent and increasing incidents of settler violence which we all condemn,” she
Israel and the PA need to improve matters relating to human rights,
“I have been concerned recently at reports of PA restrictions
on freedom of speech and have urged both sides to deal effectively with acts of
incitement,” she said.
Ashton spoke of the strength of the relationship
between the EU and Israel. “Insisting on the need to respect international and
humanitarian law is absolutely consistent with our friendship with Israel,” she
She took issue with Israel’s use of administrative detentions
An Israeli official said in response that his
country was prepared to resume negotiations with the Palestinians at any time,
The Palestinians have refused to hold direct talks
with Israel unless it first freezes all settlement activity.
official blamed the Palestinians for the stalled peace process and the absence
of direct negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas. The two men have not met
face to face since September 2010.
“The primary reason for the impasse is
the Palestinian decision to boycott the negotiating table,” the official said.
He called on the international community to send a clear message to the
Palestinians to resume talks.
The official defended the government’s plan
to authorize 851 new Jewish homes in the West Bank, noting that they would be
build primarily in the settlement blocs that Israel expects to retain in any