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Catherine Ashton: « East Jerusalem is occupied territory »

16 décembre 2009

In the European Parliament in  Strasbourg on Tuesday 15 December, the new EU’s Foreign Relations Chief, Catherine Ashton said: « East Jerusalem is occupied territory together with the West Bank. The EU is opposed to the destruction of homes, the eviction of Arab residents and the construction of the separation barrier« .  Referring to last statement in which the EU rejected Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of Jerusalem, Ashton added: « In reaffirming our principles, I hope we may have helped restore some Palestinian confidence and willingness to enter into the peace process. »

Ashton said the time was ripe for a reinvigoration of peace talks, which have been suspended for a year and show few signs of resuming.  « We now need to think about how we can re-engage a political process, » Ashton told the MEP’s,  and added  « The two sides seem to have strayed further apart in terms of engaging on an endgame. I will be travelling to the region shortly and my main objective will be to meet the main actors and see first hand how the EU can be a force for change. »

Ashton unveiled plans to visit the region in the new year. Her office said she plans to travel to the Middle East to meet leaders in late January or early February, with Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iran also on her agenda.

She called Israel’s recent decision to temporarily freeze settlement growth outside Jerusalem a « first step » and added: « We’re deeply concerned about daily living conditions of people in Gaza; Israel should reopen the crossings without delay. »

The debate saw a number of members of the European Parliament from the left and liberal side call for punitive measures against Israel, ranging from a suspension of the EU’s Association Agreement to trade penalties against exports originating in settlements. Irish  Socialist member Proinsia de Rossa called Israeli treatment of Arabs in the occupied territories a form of « apartheid. »   De Rossa, who chairs the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, briefed the parliament on Israel’s decision to withdraw permission from a delegation of MEPs to visit Gaza earlier this month.  He said he was “seriously concerned about this interference” in the parliament’s democratic role. He added permission to enter Gaza was granted by Israeli authorities and then withdrawn later the same day. “In the meantime, the European Council published its statement on what it believed to be the way forward for a two-state solution. So one can only put two and two together and assume that it was a fit of pique,” he said.

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