BRUSSELS: The EU is “deeply dismayed” by Israel’s plans for new West Bank settlements, which threaten peace efforts that instead should be revived, according to a draft prepared for foreign ministers yesterday.
The so-called E1 project that calls for the construction of new settler homes in a strip of West Bank land outside Jerusalem has fueled a major diplomatic backlash, with experts warning it could wipe out hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state.
“The European Union is deeply dismayed by and strongly opposes Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, and in particular plans to develop the E1 area,” said a draft of the conclusions on the Middle East peace process at a one-day meeting in Brussels.
The E1 plan, “if implemented, would seriously undermine the prospects of a negotiated resolution of the conflict” as it would question the viability of the two-state settlement central to the peace process.
On the day it collected the Nobel Peace Prize, the EU “reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace,” it added.
The draft said that in view of recent developments, which include an unprecedented UN upgrade of the Palestinians’ diplomatic status, the EU believed it was now time to take “bold and concrete steps toward peace.” To this end, both sides must “engage in direct and substantial negotiations without pre-conditions in order to achieve a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending all claims.” The EU also called on the Palestinian leadership to use the UN upgrade constructively and not take steps, which would “deepen the lack of trust and lead further away from a negotiated solution.”
Meanwhile, Palestinians are looking to reactivate peace talks with Israel with the aim of resolving all final status issues within six months, a senior official said yesterday Speaking to the official Voice of Palestine radio, negotiator Saeb Erakat said “a new stage” had been reached after the Palestinians successfully won non-member status at the United Nations.
“After the UN resolution... a new stage has certainly started,” he said, speaking a day after Arab League ministers met in Doha, Qatar.
The historic UN vote on November 29 had convinced the Arab world that “the peace process, and its references and involved parties including the (Middle East) Quartet, should be reconsidered,” he said.
By the end of December, a Palestinian committee would work up action plans after which it would travel to the five permanent UN Security Council members — Britain, France, Russia, China and the US — to see “whether there is a chance for the peace process and on which principles it should held.”
“The first principle is that the goal of the peace process — according to all previously signed agreements and international law — is the withdrawal of Israel to the June 4, 1967 borderline, including Jerusalem,” he said.
“The second principle is related to the necessity of re-launching negotiations from the point they were halted, which means they should not start from scratch like Netanyahu wants them to be.
“The third principle is to set a six-month time-table for the negotiations to reach an agreement over all final status issues,” he said.
“Settlement activity should be halted during this period of time and Palestinian prisoners should be released in accordance with previously signed agreements and not as preconditions.” According to a statement on the Doha talks published by the official WAFA news agency, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas proposed “a mechanism setting a six month deadline during which settlements would be halted and Israel would enter into negotiations on what was agreed” — namely, the 1967 borders as a basis for a peace deal.
Before the start of talks in 2010, Israel observed a 10-month freeze on new West Bank construction, but has refused repeated requests to renew it, dismissing it as an unacceptable “precondition” for talks, although the Palestinians say it is an “obligation” under international law.