Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

EU pitches counter-offers to Palestinian statehood bid

  • Sarkozy and Ashton in Brussels. Ashton has earned respect from both the Palestinians and Israelis over the past six months (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has unveiled an alternative proposal to a UN vote on recognising Palestine. But soft language on Israeli settlements and a competing French idea put the scheme in doubt.

Ashton at a briefing in New York on Friday (23 September) endorsed a new model for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks put together by the Middle East Quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US.

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"This has been my primary objective - the belief that, through negotiations, we would be able to end this conflict and move to peace and security for the people of Palestine and the people of Israel," she said.

The Quartet model is for negotiators to meet in one month's time and commit to ending the 70-year-old conflict by 2013. Follow-up meetings, one of them in Moscow, in three months' and six month's time, are to make "substantial progress" on "territory and security."

The Quartet in a joint communique "[called] upon the parties to refrain from provocative actions." Unlike its three previous statements on the subject it said nothing on freezing Israeli settlements, however. It also made no explicit reference to Palestinian borders based on 1967 lines.

Palestinian diplomats are studying the proposal and have said "all options remain open," including ditching the UN membership bid for now. But their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, drew attention to settlements immediately after the Quartet offer came out. "Israel needs to assume its own [responsibility] and end settlement activity," he told press in New York.

Earlier the same day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas put settlements at the core of his speech announcing the UN bid.

"The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants," he said. "This policy is responsible for the continued failure of successive international attempts to salvage the peace process."

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the UN General Assembly that settlement building in East Jerusalem will go on. He lambasted UN resolutions calling the city occupied land. "I often hear them accuse Israel of Judaising Jerusalem. That's like accusing America of Americanising Washington, or the British of Anglicising London," he said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are also studying a competing proposal unveiled by French President Nicolas Sarkozy two days before the Quartet.

The Sarkozy plan has the same timetable as the Quartet but calls for a big conference in Paris instead of Moscow. It also does not mention settlements. But it says Palestine should immediately get UN "observer" status, a move that would protect its 1967 lines and delegitimise Israeli outposts.

Palestinian diplomats do not know which, if either, of the two models has the full backing of the 27 EU countries. And Sarkozy's gambit has done nothing for internal EU harmony.

A number of EU diplomats told press in New York on an anonymous basis that Sarkozy has "irked" fellow EU countries by trying to hijack the process.

One EU diplomat told this website France effectively stole the Quartet proposal by selling it as their own 48 hours before the Quartet reached its internal agreement. "Like all EU member states, they were briefed on the Quartet discussions, so they knew exactly what was coming up," the contact said.

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