Ashton: Settlements are the key obstacle

In address to European Parliament, EU foreign policy chief say settlements “put current peace efforts at risk”, are illegal under int'l law.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R) (photo credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton 311 (R)
(photo credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters)
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 Strasbourg.
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 two-state solution.
“Ending the conflict remains a top priority,” Ashton said.
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.
“The 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 said.
Israel and the PA need to improve matters relating to human rights, she said.
“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 said.
She took issue with Israel’s use of administrative detentions against Palestinians.
An Israeli official said in response that his country was prepared to resume negotiations with the Palestinians at any time, without conditions.
The Palestinians have refused to hold direct talks with Israel unless it first freezes all settlement activity.
The Israeli 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 final-status agreement.