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Middle East: EU Calls For 'Negotiated' Settlement To Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Ahto Lobjakas

Brussels, 15 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today said it can only support a solution to the Middle East conflict that is backed both by Israel and the Palestinians.

After a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington yesterday, U.S. President George W. Bush appeared to endorse Sharon's plan for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, while retaining parts of the West Bank.

Reijo Kemppinen, a spokesman at the European Commission, today told a news conference in Brussels that while the EU welcomes moves toward peace, yesterday's statement contradicts agreed EU positions.

"We are, of course, in favor of any plan providing a realistic prospect to bring peace to the Middle East on the basis of two viable, sovereign, and independent states. Nevertheless, it is also quite evident that this proposal, which was endorsed by President Bush, is quite different from the position unanimously agreed by all heads of state and government of the European Union at the March European Council [summit]," Kemppinen said.

Kemppinen said the summit had agreed that an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza sector could represent a significant step toward the implementation of the "road map" to peace.

The road map was drawn up in late 2002 by the United States, the EU, the United Nations, and Russia, who form the so-called Quartet.

Quoting from the EU summit declaration, Kemppinen today said both Israel and the Palestinians must negotiate an agreement resulting in two "viable and independent states based on Israel's 1967 borders."

"The European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," Kemppinen said.

The EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, issued a statement today welcoming Israel's moves to "disengage" from the Gaza strip, but also said any developments must follow the provisions of the "road map" and the provisions laid out in the EU summit declaration. He also called for a "just, fair, and realistic solution" to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL today that the EU was not consulted prior to yesterday's statement by Bush and Sharon. The official said the EU is encouraged by Bush's stated commitment to the "road map," a two-state solution, and negotiated settlement. However, the official noted that what is important is what will happen next in the Middle East.

The official said the EU could not accept any decisions that preempt talks between the Palestinian side and Israel, especially when it comes to changes in Israel's 1967 borders.

Palestinian officials last night focused their criticism on Bush's apparent acceptance of Sharon's plans to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to Israel.

The European Commission spokesman Kemppinen said today the current, Irish EU Presidency will now raise the issue at an informal foreign ministers meeting in Ireland over the weekend.

"The EU foreign ministers will discuss the repercussions of the proposal by Prime Minister Sharon as endorsed by President Bush this weekend in Ireland at the 'Gymnich' [informal] meeting on the basis of the position taken by the EU [summit] on 25-26 March," Kemppinen said.

EU officials today said no meetings of the Quartet have been scheduled for the foreseeable future.

Copyright (c) 2004. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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