EU rejects request to recognise independent Palestine
The European Union has rejected a request from the Palestinian Authority that it back plans to unilaterally declare the occupied territories an independent state.
The independence move, which would entail an attempt to win recognition by the UN Security Council, could come within weeks, a senior Palestinian official has told EUobserver.
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On Monday, frustrated with the impasse in peace negotiations with Israel, the Palestinian leadership said it had formally requested that the EU back the plan for recognition of independence without Israeli authorisation.
EU leaders on Tuesday however said that while it is the bloc's hope that there will one day be a two-state solution to the long-standing dispute, it was premature to declare statehood and argued that the only way to achieve such an end was through negotiations with Israel.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, whose country currently chairs the EU's six-month rotating presidency, said: "We have said previously that we would be ready to recognise a Palestinian State, but the conditions are not there yet,' said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on behalf of the EU's presidency."
"The Palestinian plan is clearly an act borne by a difficult situation where they don't see any road ahead," he added.
EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss a laundry list of concerns, not least of which was the situation in the Middle East, but also how to give the EU more clout internationally via mechanisms contained within the recently approved Lisbon Treaty.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, external relations commissioner for the bloc, which is Israel's biggest trading partner, said that a resolution to the conflict rested with Washington.
"The most important thing until now is to really help the Americans bring both sides to the table," she said heading into the meeting of foreign ministers.
The US is expected to veto the move should it arise in the Security Council.
"It is our strong belief and conviction that the best means to achieve the common goal of a contiguous and viable Palestine is through negotiations between the parties," the US State Department said in a statement.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council's political committee, responsible for negotiations and international relations, told this website he was disappointed with the EU reaction.
"It's unfortunate. But it doesn't deter us. We have a just cause. We are making this move in respect of international law, which the EU has said it respects, but also to ask for protection."
He said that the Palestinian Authority intended to go ahead with the move "not within months, but within weeks," following internal discussions.
He rejected EU and US opinion that the path to statehood still lay through negotiations with Israel. "In 1999, Europe told us: ‘Give us more time and we will help you.' Well, we have given them more time. We will not be deceived by hollow promises, by the EU or anyone else."
"Why can't they support this at the UN? Which is better, going via the UN path, or taking a non-democratic, non-peaceful path?" he continued. "If a state is not created, chaos will prevail in the region."
Although there was only an extremely short discussion of the issue at the foreign ministers meeting, the issue of a recognition of a unilateral declaration of independence has been exercising EU minds for a while now.
Despite the fairly blunt rejection of EU recognition on Tuesday, it is understood that the member states have been divided over the issue. Informal discussions have taken place in the last year as there has been a sense that such a move could materialise at any point.
Saeb Erakat, the territories' chief negotiator, said on Monday that Israel had worked to "impose facts on the ground by stealing Palestinian lands and building settlements and barriers aiming to finish off the two-state project."
"We will seek the support of all members of the international community," he said.
Israeli leaders for their part warned that if Palestinians moved ahead with a unilateral declaration of independence, this would prompt a response that could involve further annexation of the West Bank by the Jewish state.
However, it is understood that Tel Aviv believes the Palestinian pronouncement to be merely tactical, and that Ramallah is unlikely to follow through with the threat.
A Palestinian Declaration of Independence was made by the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1988. Though the declaration was recognised at the time by a handful of countries, the move was never fully implemented.
In a statement, the EU ministers called on Israel to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip to allow for a flow of people, humanitarian aid and commercial goods.
"The European Union remains gravely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Calls for urgent measures have not been sufficiently answered," the ministers said in a statement.
"The European Union continues to urge that prompt and concrete measures be taken to solve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and to allow for reconstruction and economic recovery."