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25th Feb 2021

EU leaders call US bluff on 1967 borders in Israel

  • Israeli soldiers remove young settler from anti-Palestinian protest (Photo: delayed gratification)

EU countries have called on the US to get behind an initiative to revive Middle East peace talks based on a format disliked by Israel.

The EU leaders in a communique at the summit in Brussels on Friday (24 June) said they "fully support the high representative's call for the Quartet to create a credible perspective for the re-launching of the peace process as a matter of urgency."

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The line refers to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton's appeal to hold a meeting of the four parties - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - in Washington in the first half of July.

The communique did not explicitly say the "credible perspective" or blueprint for talks should involve Israel pulling back to lines held before the 1967 war, but it "welcome[d] President Obama's recent proposals, in line with previous EU positions" on the subject.

US leader Barack Obama in a speech on 19 May said Israel should go back to 1967 borders. The proposal, which would involve Israel extracting armed extremist settlers from occupied land, was immediately attacked by Israel and by the US congress, with the US administration going quiet on the idea ever since.

The Israeli foreign minister earlier this month also told Ashton it is not a good moment to try to restart talks because the world should be concentrating on Syria instead.

An EU diplomat said Poland "did a good job" of overcoming reluctance about the EU statement among pro-Israeli countries in central and eastern Europe, such as the Czech republic.

Asked by EUobserver what Israel thinks of the EU summit appeal, Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel is ready for talks if the Palestinian Fatah movement abandons a unity government deal with Hamas, a militant Palestinian group listed as a terrorist entity by the EU and US.

"The Israeli side wants to see peace talks resume and has called on the Palestinian leadership to annul their pact with Hamas and to re-enter talks," Regev said.

A comparison of a draft version of the EU summit text circulating on Friday morning with the official version adopted a few hours later shows that two pro-Irsaeli changes were made in the final stage.

The official text contains a new line calling for the organisers of an upcoming aid flotilla to Hamas-controlled Gaza to back off, saying the move could "endanger human lives", even though it was Israeli commandos who shot dead several flotilla members last year. It also contains an appeal to Hamas to release Israeli hostage Gilad Shilat.

Elsewhere, the EU communique took a hard line on Syria but a soft one on Bahrain, which is part of an EU-US-Saudi-Arabia alliance.

Published on a day when Syrian troops killed 15 more protesters, the EU text said "the regime is calling its legitimacy into question" and threatened President Bashar Assad's people with the international tribunal in The Hague, adding: "Those responsible for crimes and violence against civilians shall be held accountable."

On Bahrain, which handed out life sentences to eight pro-democracy protesters the day before the EU summit and which stands accused of systematic murder and torture of dissidents, EU leaders said they are "concerned" and "encouraged" respect for rights.

For his part, French leader Nicolas Sarkozy in the post-summit press conference took a swipe at outgoing US defence chief Robert Gates over recent remarks that EU countries are not pulling their weight in fighting in Afghanistan and Libya.

"Obviously Robert Gates was about to step down and go into retirement and he was obviously not very happy about this and possibly this explains his rather bitter words," the Frenchman said.

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