EU seeks mediating role in Mideast conflict
4 November 2007, Brussels (dpa) - EU officials hope to play a "constructive" role in the Middle East peace process when they meet delegations from Israel and the Palestinian territories in Lisbon on Monday. The talks are due to take place just hours before a meeting of foreign ministers from Europe and the Mediterranean area and several weeks before a US-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood is due to take place in Maryland. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who planned to send his foreign minister
4 November 2007
Brussels (dpa) - EU officials hope to play a "constructive" role in the Middle East peace process when they meet delegations from Israel and the Palestinian territories in Lisbon on Monday.
The talks are due to take place just hours before a meeting of foreign ministers from Europe and the Mediterranean area and several weeks before a US-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood is due to take place in Maryland.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who planned to send his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner to the Portuguese capital on Monday, has recently called on Israel and the Palestinians to "take a risk" and "make peace".
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited both Tel Aviv and Ramallah this week and later said talks between Israelis and Palestinians had entered "a decisive phase".
During his visit to the Middle East, Steinmeier unveiled a German-initiated plan aimed at supporting Palestinian businesses, education and security services.
He said the initiative was designed to allocate European aid in a timely and organized manner.
The EU's executive, the Commission, has announced its intention of resuming direct financial aid to the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.
But the plan, announced by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner in Portugal two months ago, has yet to be put into practice as the EU has yet to finish providing the necessary training to Palestinian finance ministry officials.
Soldiers from Italy and France are leading peace-keeping operations in southern Lebanon and Israel tends to view the EU as traditionally pro-Arab.
Such feelings were likely to have been reinforced when Brussels issued a number of statements criticizing Israel over its decision to reduce the supply of fuel to Gaza.
"While condemning the unacceptable and continued attacks on Israel's territory and recognizing Israel's legitimate right to self defence, the EU underlines the need for carefully weighing the negative impact of such measures on a civilian population already living under very difficult conditions," a statement from the Portuguese presidency of the EU said.
Ferrero-Waldener had earlier described the move as a form of "collective punishment" against the people of Gaza.
Palestinian Foreign and Information Minister Riyad Malki was expected to represent the Palestinians at the talks in Lisbon, while it was not yet confirmed whether Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would be attending.
Malki said he planned to inform EU officials about "the importance of lifting the siege and sanctions on the Gaza Strip."
"We will also talk about what the government did in the last 100 days in office, its efforts to enforce law and order, its finances and economic reforms and we expect from the members all the support we can get to help out in this period, financially and economically," Malki added.
The EU has been trying to play a constructive role in the Middle East at least since 1995, when it set up a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership at a meeting of foreign ministers in Barcelona, Spain.
The so-called "Barcelona Process" seeks to establish a common area of peace and stability while enhancing economic, social and cultural cooperation between the EU and 10 Mediterranean Partners - Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.
EU officials in Brussels said that while no concrete results were expected to emerge from the Lisbon meeting as far as the peace process is concerned, the fact that the EU was providing traditional enemies a forum in which to discuss issues of common interest was in itself significant.
On Tuesday, EU ministers planned to discuss a variety of issues with its colleagues from the Mediterranean. These include enhanced economic cooperation, issues relating to migration and a code of conduit on counter terrorism.
The meeting was also expected to offer EU ministers a first chance to discuss Sarkozy's as yet undefined idea of creating a Mediterranean Union.
Modelled on the EU, the Mediterranean Union would comprise 20 countries on the Mediterranean Sea. Among them Israel and Syria.
Subject: German news