EU dents Palestinian hopes of independence

The European Union on Tuesday poured cold water over Palestinian plans to seek immediate recognition as an independent state, saying the move would be “premature” and called instead for a resumption of Middle East peace negotiations with Israel.

“The European Union has said [in the past] that we will be ready to recognise a Palestinian state but the conditions are not there as of yet,” said Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign minister whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency. “I don’t think we are there yet.”

Palestinian negotiators last week threatened to walk away from peace negotiations with Israel, which have become bogged down over Israel’s refusal to stop building settlements on Palestinian territory, and unilaterally declare independence based on June 1967 borders.

The US had earlier voiced opposition to the move, calling for a resumption of the “road map” negotiations that would eventually lead to Palestinian statehood.

The US position was largely echoed by European diplomats as the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for external relations, said the EU’s focus should be on “help[ing] the Americans bring both sides to the table,” adding it was too early to say anything about Palestinian plans for statehood.

Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said moves for statehood “have to be done with time, with calm, in an appropriate moment. I don’t think today is the moment to talk about that.”

The European bloc is the biggest aid donor to the Palestinians, and helps train its police force. It is a member of the so-called Middle East Quartet trying to mediate between the two sides, along with the UN, the US and Russia.

Mr Bildt added he was looking to discuss “other steps in order to demonstrate our support for Palestinian aspirations more clearly than we have done so far. […] I would hope that we would be in a position to recognise a Palestinian state but there has to be one first,” he told reporters.

Diplomats said that the ensuing negotiations contained little substance on the peace talks, and that different member states were likely to continue to hold divergent views from those of the presidency.

The EU on Thursday is due to appoint its first High Representative for foreign affairs, which will combine the authority of several current EU posts into a single office with its own considerable diplomatic network and resources.

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