Abbas wants Europe to play vital role in Mideast

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The Palestinian president wants Europe to play an important political role and not just offer economic support in the Middle East peace process.

23 May 2008

RAMALLAH - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday urged Europe to play an important political role in the Middle East peace process.

"We discussed the peace process, and we say frankly that we want Europe to have a role -- we insist on it," Abbas told a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"It's true that Europe offers economic support, but we also want it to play an important political role. It is geographically the closest to the Middle East and best understands the region," he said.

The Middle East process was relaunched last November at a US-sponsored meeting in
Annapolis with the aim of reaching an agreement by the time President George W. Bush leaves office next January.

A breakthrough has yet to be achieved, and in private Palestinian officials accuse Washington of not exerting enough pressure on Israel to take the process forward.

Kouchner earlier expressed doubts that Israel and the Palestinians will reach a peace accord this year.

"If one looks at the situation, we have reasons to be sceptical," he told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam in an interview published on Thursday.

Kouchner told the news conference that the European Union "must not just play the role of cashier to dispense money" in aid to the Palestinians.

"We must stand by the side of our Palestinian and Israeli friends to participate in progress in the peace process... to be positive and to help, not to be anti-American," he said.

Kouchner, who met earlier in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, again called for Jewish settlement in occupied Arab land to cease.

"France's position is clear," he said. "We are completely against the creation of new settlements and have always insisted to our Israeli friends that this must stop. We restated this position yesterday and today in Israel."

He played down recent contacts between France and the Islamist Hamas movement which ousted Fatah forces loyal to Abbas from the impoverished Gaza Strip more than 11 months ago.

"There was only one meeting, you know about that and it is over," he said.

"It was a simple contact aimed at gleaning information on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It was not a political negotiation," Kouchner said of talks a senior retired diplomat had with Hamas leaders.

The United States and the European Union refuse to talk to Hamas, which they consider to be a terrorist organisation.

[AFP / Expatica]

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