EU to seek new Mideast talks based on 1967 borders

Daily News Egypt
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BRUSSELS: The European Union is set to launch a drive this week to revive long-stalled Middle East peace negotiations based on the principle of a return to Israel s 1967 borders, EU officials say. At an informal meeting in Finland on Friday and Saturday, foreign ministers of the 25-nation bloc will discuss how to leverage their increased military presence in southern Lebanon to gain more political clout in future peacemaking. With the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militants still fragile and a standoff between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants over an abducted Israeli soldier unresolved, the Europeans argue the situation can only be stabilized by starting processes to seek political solutions. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana wants to create momentum for fresh talks based on the goals of a two-state solution and a return to 1967 borders plus or minus agreed minor adjustments, his spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said. Solana s objective is to build consensus for negotiations on the basis of the 67 borders, plus or minus, she said, acknowledging it could be a lengthy process. Israel has long rejected any talk of returning to the lines it held before capturing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights from Jordan, Egypt and Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. The United States backed its stance. President George W. Bush said in 2004 it was unrealistic to expect Israel to return to those boundaries in the light of Israeli settlements on the ground. Solana s spokeswoman said the principle of a return to something close to the 1967 frontiers, with a negotiated land swap to enable Israel to keep some settlement blocs, underlay former U.S. President Bill Clinton s 2000 peace plan and had widespread international support. There had been resistance when the Europeans first called for a two-state solution to the conflict but the United States and Israel had eventually embraced the objective, she noted. The EU has played second fiddle to the United States in the Quartet of international mediators that has been working, mostly unsuccessfully, to broker Israeli-Palestinian agreements. But the Europeans came to the fore in the Lebanon crisis by offering to provide more than half of the proposed 15,000 peacekeepers for a buffer force between Israel and Hezbollah, while Washington, Israel s superpower ally, will provide none. The more we are physically involved with soldiers on the ground, the more we are going to get influence to match our military, humanitarian and economic commitment, Gallach said. French President Jacques Chirac has called for a revival of Quartet peace efforts at a high level with a bigger EU role. But diplomats are skeptical, noting persistent differences among the Europeans on relations with Israel and Syria, which resurfaced during the Lebanon fighting. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the Lebanon war had shown there was no military solution to the Middle East conflict and should create momentum for fresh negotiations. The Quartet needed to update the road map peace plan for a two-state solution, which had been overtaken by events since its promulgation in 2003, she said. The EU is hoping a slow-moving Palestinian national dialogue will soon yield a national unity government between the militant Hamas movement, which won a parliamentary election in January, and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. The West has halted aid to the Hamas-led government because of its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace agreements, but a unity cabinet could adopt a platform that could lead to an end of the boycott. Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom

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