20th Mar 2018

Ashton in bid to save Middle East peace process

  • Israeli soldiers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (Photo: Flickmor)

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has launched a bold initiative to avert a potentially explosive dispute at the UN in September.

The EU official in a letter over the weekend said the Quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - should hold a high-level meeting before the summer which spells out that Israel must pull back to its 1967 borders in return for security guarantees from the Palestinian side.

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The move is designed to give Palestinians an incentive to put aside plans to seek full UN recognition in September, a move which could split the EU into pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian camps and damage EU-US relations.

Ashton's letter - addressed to UN chief Ban Ki Moon, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, and seen by the Israeli daily Haaretz - says: "I believe that what is needed now is a clear signal to the parties, and a reference framework that should enable them to return to the negotiating table."

It adds that the Arab Spring "makes it even more urgent to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

"This is no time for unilateral moves on either side, since this could lead to escalation ... It is critical we make a gesture before the summer, because we need to contribute to a calming of a volatile situation that promises to be even more so as the year progresses."

A French diplomat said Ashton's initiative was made "in co-ordination" with Paris, which earlier this month called for a top-level Middle East peace conference to be held in Paris in July.

Apart from the dynamics in the region, Ashton is keen to score points in EU capitals in order to keep her job .

EU diplomats say that when EU President Herman Van Rompuy's mandate comes up for renewal in mid-2012, questions will be asked on whether Ashton has done enough to merit staying in her post for the full five years until 2014.

"She needs 'deliverables' in the next four to six months, specifically playing a positive and visible role on the EU position on Palestine in September," one EU contact noted.

US President Barack Obama himself in a speech in May said a two-state solution should be based on 1967 lines with land-swaps and security guarantees. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at a meeting in the Brookings Institute, a think-tank in Washington, earlier this month said that talks based on 1967 lines could see the UN plan put to one side.

The US has begun to row back on the idea after it was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however.

For his part, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday called the Ashton plan "naive", saying she should concentrate on bigger events unfolding in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen instead.

"This is an attempt to distort the international community's correct set of priorities," he told Israel's Army Radio. "The attempt to give top priority to the Palestinian issue is naive."


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