Ashton sees Peres to discuss ME peace prospects

EU policy chief arrives nearly an hour late after meeting with PM Binyamin Netanyahu, who kept her waiting for a long time.

By
August 29, 2011 02:33
2 minute read.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton [file]

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic)

 
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Revolutionary trends in the Middle East have not yet been fully played out and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the region is moving towards democracy or whether oppression and corruption will continue to rule in another guise.

Israel, while welcoming the overthrow of tyrants and the quest for freedom, has consistently stated that a change of leadership without a change in the system will not be productive and will not lead to what the revolutionaries had hoped to achieve. The Israeli attitude has been that if there is positive change, this will be a good sign for peace prospects in the region.

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The topic was in the forefront of conversation in Jerusalem on Sunday night between President Shimon Peres and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, with the emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possible scenarios at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly, and the consequences of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

Ashton was nearly an hour behind schedule, having met previously with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who kept her waiting for a long time.

Asked whether the meeting with Netanyahu had been delayed, one of Ashton’s aides replied grimly that it had been considerably delayed. Netanyahu has a reputation for being late to meetings and press conferences.

Ashton apologized profusely to Peres for her lateness, to which he replied. “It’s not your fault. I know.”

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A frequent visitor to the President’s Residence, Ashton found it somewhat different this time when she alighted from her limousine. The red carpet was in place, but alongside it were two late 19th-century padded carriages, one black and one white. There was also music in the background.

The carriages were part of the scenery for the Monday night production celebrating the 20th anniversary of Tel Aviv’s Gesher Theater, and the music was part of the rehearsal for the performance. Workman had been putting up scenery earlier in the day and the large cast had been rehearsing since the morning, breaking off only for meals. They were still in rehearsal when Ashton arrived.

Peres told her that her visit was “timely and of the utmost importance” and added that a supreme effort must be made to take advantage of opportunities and not to make another mistake.

Ashton said that as always, she spoke on behalf of the 27 member states of the EU in wishing Israel well and getting the peace process renewed.

She stressed the urgency of finding a solution to the conflict as quickly as possible, saying that it should be a solution that will guarantee lasting peace.

She also noted that Sunday was the 25th birthday of hijacked soldier Gilad Schalit, and voiced the hope that he would be released well before his 26th birthday.

“My thoughts today are with his parents,” Ashton said.

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