EU's foreign ministers support call for immediate talks

Netanyahu speaks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, telling her he would be willing to meet PA President Abbas anytime.

PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
The EU’s 27 foreign ministers on Monday threw their weight behind calls for immediate direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, a move applauded in Jerusalem as the type of international position needed to get the PA back to talks.
Only if the international community makes clear to the PA that there is no way to bypass negotiations on the way to statehood will they return to talks, officials in Jerusalem said in response to the EU call.
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The EU’s foreign ministers met in Brussels for their monthly meeting a day after Quartet envoys met in the same city and said that the parties would be contacted in the coming days about setting up a meeting.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday night, and said he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas anytime. Ashton participated in Sunday’s Quartet meeting.
Diplomatic officials acknowledged that once the Quartet formally sent out invitations to a meeting, it would be difficult for either side to refuse, lest they be seen as the party responsible for a lack of movement.
The Quartet – made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN – unveiled a proposal on September 23 that called on both parties to commit to a meeting to be held in a month, with the objectives of reaching an agreement by the end of 2012, coming up with concrete ideas on borders and security within 90 days, and making “substantial progress” within six months.
Asked whether Israel would agree to a meeting with the Palestinians on the condition of their withdrawing efforts to win statehood recognition at the UN, one government source said only that Jerusalem hoped the Palestinians would reassess their policy and “pick up the ball passed by the Quartet.”
Noting that Abbas was currently on a tour to Colombia and Portugal – two countries on the UN Security Council – to lobby for their votes, the official said this showed that the Palestinians were not getting the automatic support they expected for their bid.
“I hope this causes the Palestinians to rethink their position, freeze the UN bid and take seriously the Quartet proposal to return to talks,” the official said.
The EU foreign ministers, in their statement calling on the sides to “resume negotiations under the terms and within the timelines” indicated in the Quartet’s September statement, also slammed Israel for plans to build an additional 1,100 units in Gilo.
“The EU deplores the recent Israeli decision to advance settlement expansion in the east Jerusalem settlement of Gilo, which runs counter to the Quartet’s efforts,” the statement said.
“The EU also calls upon both sides to avoid steps that run counter to the Quartet’s efforts to restart negotiations.”
The Gilo condemnation was anticipated in Jerusalem, and one official responded by saying that the disagreement with Europe over building in Jerusalem goes back to 1967.
“Israel does not see Gilo as a settlement,” he said. “It is not an outpost; it is a neighborhood in our capital. I would ask the Europeans if they are doing the peace process any good by giving Gilo the same status as places like Eilon Moreh or Yitzhar,” two settlements in Samaria well to the east of the security barrier.
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