EU's Ashton to visit Jerusalem pushing Israel to halt settlements
EU's new foreign policy chief, Ashton, will travel to the Jerusalem early next year to keep pressure on Israel to halt settlement buildings in occupied West Bank.
The European Union's new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will travel to the Middle East early next year to keep pressure on Israel to halt settlement buildings in occupied Palestinian territory.
Ashton, appointed last month as the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, is expected to visit Jerusalem in early February to keep pressure on Israel to halt settlement building and urge Palestinians back to negotiations.
The visit follows a statement by EU foreign ministers on Dec. 8 calling for Israel to end "discriminatory" treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and for Jerusalem to be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Ashton reiterated that line during a debate on the Middle East in the European Parliament on Tuesday, saying the time was ripe for a reinvigoration of peace talks, which have been suspended for a year and show few signs of resuming.
"We now need to think about how we can re-engage a political process," Ashton told the assembly.
She said the EU intended to work closely with the United States in encouraging the Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks with a fixed timeframe.
"The two sides seem to have strayed further apart in terms of engaging on an endgame. I will be travelling to the region shortly and my main objective will be to meet the main actors and see first hand how the EU can be a force for change," she said
Referring to last week's statement, in which the EU rejected Israel's annexation of the eastern half of Jerusalem -- a step that has not been recognised internationally --, Ashton said: "In reaffirming our principles, I hope we may have helped restore some Palestinian confidence and willingness to enter into the peace process."
"All issues should be on the table, including the status of Jerusalem as a future shared capital," she said.
Timeframe for talks
Ashton has taken over the EU foreign policy role from Spaniard Javier Solana, who held the post for 10 years, although she still needs parliamentary approval next month.
Under the EU's Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force on Dec. 1, the job is greatly enhanced, with responsibility for shaping a common EU foreign policy and for overseeing a new EU foreign service.
She said peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis should have a timeframe, rather than being open-ended.
She also called for the Quartet -- the grouping of the U.S., EU, United Nations and Russia that oversees the process -- to be shaken up, hinting that the United States and the EU should take the lead.
"Conditions for an effective EU-US partnership on the Middle East have rarely been as good. It's time to turn this into a reality by closely coordinating our positions and strategy," Ashton said.
"The EU will continue to support and work closely with the U.S. via the Quartet. The Quartet needs reinvigoration. the current stalemate in the peace process demands it."
Reuters Last Mod: 16 Aralık 2009, 08:26