(photo credit: AP)
The international community must do more to hold Israel accountable - particularly on its accelerated West Bank settlement construction - if peace efforts are to have a chance, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad said in an interview Saturday.
Fayad said he is disappointed by a recent EU decision to continue strengthening ties with Israel, without linking such an upgrade to a settlement freeze. However, he said he'll keep pressing.
"If I am disappointed, I am certainly not discouraged," Fayad said. "The point is, there is much better awareness in Europe now of this issue, something which did not exist before."
EU leaders decided earlier this month to upgrade political ties with Israel, but have not yet voted on an improved economic relationship, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Palestinian leaders often complain about a failure to take Israel to task for allegedly breaking commitments, such as a settlement freeze required by the US-backed "road map" plan.
However, in recent months, Fayad has tried a new approach, proposing practical steps in which European countries could help curb settlement expansion.
In May, he wrote to 27 EU nations, proposing the link between an upgrade in Israel-EU ties and halting settlement construction. Fayad also exchanged letters with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said he wants to make sure products from West Bank settlements are denied favorable EU tariffs.
Under a 2003 agreement between Israel and the EU, settlement products must be clearly labeled. Brown wrote Dec. 9 that he wants to make sure the agreement is implemented effectively "and any abuse of the system fully investigated." Brown also wrote that he's looking into ways to discourage British citizens from buying property in settlements.
Fayad would not say whether he's found other European leaders as receptive as Brown.
Palmor said the issue of settlements should be dealt with at the negotiating table, and not be singled out. "We hear all these protests and condemnations," he said. "What we say is that the way to solve this issue is through negotiations."
Fayad noted he's not seeking an economic boycott of Israel.
"After all, Israel is our largest trading partner, and I foresee that situation to continue for many years to come," Fayad said. "This is about saying your settlements are illegal under international law."
Fayad said he is astounded that the fateful issue of West Bank settlements, home to nearly 300,000 Israelis, has not been raised in Israel's election campaign.
Fayad said the negotiations will not move forward unless the international community gets more involved, and holds both sides accountable.
Without such involvement, "we are not really going to get the desired result of ending this conflict anytime soon," he said.
"We owe it to this third party to be accountable to them, and one way is to deliver on commitments that we make," he said. "The same should be demanded of Israel."