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