EU Statement on visit to the Middle East

State­ment by the EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cather­ine Ash­ton on the occa­sion of her vis­it to the Mid­dle East
Cather­ine Ash­ton, EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy and Vice Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion vis­it­ed Israel and the Occu­pied Pales­tin­ian Ter­ri­to­ry (OPT) on 5 and 6 Jan­u­ary. Dur­ing her vis­it in Israel she spoke to Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu and met with For­eign Min­is­ter Liber­man, Defense Min­is­ter Barak and Kadi­ma par­ty leader Tzipi Livni. In the OPT she met with Pres­i­dent Abbas and Prime Min­is­ter Fayyad. She also vis­it­ed Beth­le­hem, includ­ing the Aida Camp and the Church of the Nativ­i­ty. This was her first offi­cial trip abroad in 2011.

On the occa­sion of her vis­it, High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ash­ton said: “I am pleased to begin the new year with a vis­it to the Mid­dle East. My trip to the region so ear­ly in the year is an expres­sion of my per­son­al com­mit­ment and that of the Euro­pean Union and its 27 Mem­ber States to peace in the Mid­dle East. Dur­ing my talks, we dis­cussed lat­est devel­op­ments and ways to move beyond the cur­rent impasse. I have lis­tened care­ful­ly to the posi­tion and con­cerns of both par­ties and have reit­er­at­ed the EU posi­tion as stat­ed by the For­eign Affairs Coun­cil in Decem­ber 2010. I have urged both Israelis and Pales­tini­ans to find a sat­is­fac­to­ry way to engage with­out delay in sub­stan­tive nego­ti­a­tions on all final sta­tus issues. There is no alter­na­tive to a nego­ti­at­ed solu­tion. Urgent progress is need­ed towards a two state solu­tion with Israel and Pales­tine liv­ing side by side in peace and secu­ri­ty as part of a just and com­pre­hen­sive peace.

We will do what­ev­er is pos­si­ble to help both par­ties choose the path of peace and engage in suc­cess­ful nego­ti­a­tions. I have reaf­firmed the EU’s will­ing­ness and com­mit­ment to con­tribute to a nego­ti­at­ed solu­tion and post con­flict arrange­ments. We will also con­tin­ue to sup­port the suc­cess­ful Pales­tin­ian state-build­ing efforts. 

I pro­pose the Quar­tet meet as soon as pos­si­ble to help find a solu­tion to the cur­rent impasse. The Munich Secu­ri­ty Con­fer­ence in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary offers a good oppor­tu­ni­ty. In April, I will host the AHLC (Ad Hoc Liai­son Com­mit­tee for the coor­di­na­tion of assis­tance to the Pales­tini­ans) meet­ing in Brus­sels. In sup­port of the polit­i­cal process, we are pre­pared to host a Sec­ond Donors’ Con­fer­ence in Europe lat­er in the spring.

Anoth­er impor­tant sub­ject of my dis­cus­sions has been Gaza, which is nev­er far from my mind, hav­ing vis­it­ed it twice last year. As I have always said, the cross­ings must be opened to allow the flow of human­i­tar­i­an aid, imports, exports and peo­ple. We need to enable chil­dren to go to school and ordi­nary peo­ple to recon­struct their homes and get on with their lives. Recent Israeli deci­sions are steps in the right direc­tion but I have encour­aged fur­ther efforts and com­ple­men­tary mea­sures to achieve a fun­da­men­tal change of pol­i­cy that allows for the recon­struc­tion and eco­nom­ic recov­ery of ‘Gaza while address­ing Israel’s legit­i­mate secu­ri­ty con­cerns. I have reit­er­at­ed the EU’s com­mit­ment to help and have dis­cussed with both Israelis and Pales­tini­ans how to take for­ward the EU’s com­pre­hen­sive pack­age of sup­port, which includes improve­ments to the cross­ings infra­struc­ture, equip­ment and train­ing for the Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty (PA) bor­der and cross­ings personnel.

My dis­cus­sions also gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss our bilat­er­al rela­tions. I com­mend­ed the work of the PA in build­ing the insti­tu­tions of the future state and reit­er­at­ed our full sup­port to PM Fayyad’s efforts. I con­firmed that the EU will front­load an ini­tial finan­cial pack­age worth €100 mil­lion for the Occu­pied Pales­tin­ian Ter­ri­to­ry under the 2011 bud­get. This will help the Pales­tin­ian Author­i­ty to con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices across all the occu­pied Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ry and will help UNRWA to con­tin­ue with their essen­tial work. With Israel, our part­ner­ship is strong and sol­id. I dis­cussed the state-of-play of our rela­tions with FM Liber­man. The upcom­ing Asso­ci­a­tion Coun­cil with Israel will be a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to make fur­ther progress.

I was very hap­py to vis­it Beth­le­hem and the Church of the Nativ­i­ty on the eve of Ortho­dox Christ­mas. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reit­er­ate my call for all reli­gious groups around the world to gath­er and wor­ship freely. The EU con­demns all forms of intol­er­ance and vio­lence against per­sons because of their reli­gion or belief, wher­ev­er it takes place.” 

Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union 

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