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Middle East conflict: build trust and freeze settlements, says EMPA

16 mars 2010

The stalled Middle East peace talks dominated the sixth plenary session of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), in Jordan (12-14 March). The Israeli policy of settlement building and the new housing projects in East Jerusalem were condemned as jeopardising the two-state solution. The EMPA also adopted its first operational budget and set up a permanent secretariat.

Parliamentarians call on the Union of Mediterranean countries to come up with a time frame for establishing a Palestinian State, « possibly within 2 years« , « comprising Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem« , says the recommendation.

Israel should freeze all settlement activities, says the Assembly. « The continuing expansion of settlements is destroying trust between the partners, undermining the authority of the Palestinian negotiators and prejudging the outcome of the final status negotiations« , says the recommendation, although the Israeli delegation publicly expressed its reservations.

In the debate on the peace process, Chair of the EP delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council Pronsias De Rossa (S&D, IE), said « mutual trust is key to this conflict. Building trust entails putting an end to the siege of Gaza and finding a solution for Palestinian prisoners detained outside the constraints of the Geneva Convention« .

« That’s why I believe that the recommendations of the Goldstone are important. If implemented, these recommendations could be the starting point for building the trust that this region needs« , added De Rossa, who was backed by Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR).

« We should focus our political activity not only the advantages of peace but also on the risks and costs of non-peace for the whole region, for Israel, the Palestinians and the EU« , said Rodi Kratsa (EPP, EL).

« The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is casting a shadow over our meetings« , said Ivo Vajgl (ALDE, SL) who welcomed the presence of the Israeli delegation. « You don’t have to feel encircled, we are aiming at securing a prosperous Israeli state and the same goes for building a Palestinian state. Please convey to Israel why we are worried about the population of Gaza« , he added.

The recent Israeli decision to list sacred sites in Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem in an Israeli national heritage restoration plan caused concern among MEPs and Assembly MPs. The parliamentarians decided debate this issue thoroughly at a joint meeting of the Political and Culture Committees in Istanbul in May 2010.

Value added of the Union for the Mediterranean

The UfM has given a « new impetus » and « greater political significance and economic effectiveness » to the Barcelona process via its project-based approach, says an Assembly recommendation on the value added by the UfM to the region’s development (rapporteurs Raimon Obiols and Ivo Vajgl for the EP). The UfM is also « an asset for achieving institutional reforms in Mediterranean countries and tackling issues such as water, energy and immigration« , it adds.

According to Raimon Obiols (S&D, ES), « changing the name of the Assembly from EMPA to Parliamentary Assembly of the UfM should be the first step to enforce a real parliamentary dimension of the Union« . On behalf of the EU’s Spanish Presidency, Ambassador Jose Riera Siquier assured the Assembly that « The EMPA recommendations will be taken into account with a view to the upcoming June 2010 UfM summit in Barcelona« .

« EMPA is a political bridge across the Mediterranean, a unique form of co-operation. It needs more than ever to give boost to the peace process and the economies of the region« , said European Parliament President  Jerzy Buzek, who led the EP Delegation and who recently met the Israeli Foreign Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority in Brussels.

The Assembly did not reach a consensus on the Tunisian proposal to transform the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) into a Mediterranean Branch of the European Bank of Investment (EIB). Some delegations from the EU national parliaments (including Sweden, Finland and Germany), opposed creating such a bank, arguing that existing facilities are better and that loans would be more expensive if the bank were to be set up.

The Assembly also adopted recommendations on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs (rapporteur Hélène Flautre) and on the preservation and sustainability of the Common sea, including the Dead Sea (rapporteur Ioannis Kasoulides, EPP, CY).

EMPA brings together 280 parliamentarians. Of these, 130 represent EU members (81 members of the 27 EU national parliaments and 49 MEPs), 10 members from the parliaments of the European Mediterranean partner countries (2 members for each of the delegations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Monaco, and Montenegro), and 130 members of the parliaments of the ten founding Mediterranean partners, on the basis of equal representation, and 10 members from the Mauritanian Parliament.

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