'EU decision shuns obstacles to peace'

EU wont recognize any

Asselborn 248.88 (photo credit: )
Asselborn 248.88
(photo credit: )
A resolution passed by European Union foreign ministers Tuesday to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state "ignores the primary obstacle to achieving a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians," according to a Foreign Ministry statement released after the vote. The statement said that main factor preventing a peace agreement was "the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table." "Given the Israel government's efforts to renew negotiations, Israel regrets that the EU has chosen to adopt a text that, although containing nothing new, does not contribute to the renewal of negotiations," the statement added. Nonetheless, the Foreign Ministry expressed relief that the original Swedish draft, which did not recognize Israel's claims to east Jerusalem, was revised, stating that the "voices of the responsible and reasonable EU states" had prevailed. The Foreign Ministry statement ended with a call for the EU to "promote direct negotiations between the parties, while considering Israel's security needs and understanding that Israel's Jewish character must be preserved in any future agreement." Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat completely rejected the EU decision, according to a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. Barkat said the decision posed "real danger" for the future of Jerusalem, saying it would "never work." The mayor noted that the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Berlin reminds everyone that no divided city in the history of the world has functioned properly. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Tuesday said she was "troubled" the resolution, and that it was "not good for Israel." She noted that she had discussed the original Swedish version with both the Swedish foreign minister and the French president. "The decision also exposes and underlines a no less important issue - that less than a year ago, negotiations [with the Palestinians] were held without freezing construction" in the West Bank, Livni added, in reference to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recently announced 10-month moratorium on settlement construction. Also responding to the resolution Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad welcomed the EU statement, which he said gives Palestinians "a better sense of hope and possibility about tomorrow." A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also welcomed document. "We hope that Israel agrees to the principles contained in the statement, because this is the right way to launch serious negotiations," said Yasser Abed Rabbo. The draft EU ministerial resolution which was approved Tuesday said, "The EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem." The document also called for the establishment of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. "If there is to be [peace] a way has to be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states," it said. Most EU ministers appeared supportive of the latest draft, although some said the declaration should not antagonize either party in the dispute at the risk of undermining efforts to restart peace talks. "I don't really understand why Israel does not accept that Palestine consists of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem," Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told journalists. "The Israelis have a right to live in Israel, the Palestinians have a right to live in Palestine." Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said the EU must affirm its stand on the status of Jerusalem and insist that Israel must not resume settlement building. "The EU has very strong principles and we have to stick to those principles," Stubb said. "I think the negotiations, the peace process must simply start and this is a way forward." The EU foreign ministers meeting is intended to pave the way for the regular, year-end summit on Thursday and Friday. The European Jewish Congress (EJC) also reacted with disappointment to the foreign ministers' declaration. EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said that the declaration hardly took into account recent Israeli concessions including the 10-month moratorium on settlement building, removing West Bank roadblocks, boosting the Palestinian economy and accepting the premise of a Palestinian state. "Although the declaration goes some way to correcting the unprecedented proposals by the Swedes, it is still extremely lopsided towards the Palestinian point of view," Kantor said. "This will only embolden the Palestinians by sending them the message that they don't need to negotiate because they will receive everything on a silver platter. It also ignores the fact that Israel has repeatedly called for immediate and direct negotiations without preconditions, something repeatedly ignored by the Palestinians." "Israel has taken significant steps towards the renewal of talks by its actions, including freezing the settlements, and it is time to push the Palestinians back to the negotiation table, not in the opposite direction," Kantor added. "Peace can only be achieved by negotiations between the two parties." He said the EJC believes that the nature of the declaration stood in contrast to the role of an honest broker that the European Union sought to play. "Europe could and should play a role in the Middle East peace process but some of the wording in the declaration is counterproductive. We call on the EU to assist the process and not hamper," Kantor said. "We urge all EU member states to strive for even-handedness when dealing with the Middle East." However, he said that the EJC acknowledged the role played by France, Italy and other nations to soften the original Swedish text. Herb Keinon contributed to this report