Zapatero unveils new Middle East initiative

Spain, France and Italy plan are to present a new Middle East peace initiative to their European partners at an EU summit in December, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spanish prime minister, said on Thursday.

Spain hopes to gain the backing of Germany and Britain for the initiative, calling for an immediate ceasefire, the formation of an internationally recognised Palestinian unity government and a peace conference.

“We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes,” Mr Zapatero told reporters during a summit of Spanish and French leaders in Girona, Spain.

“Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means, to a great extent, peace at an international level,” he said.

Mr Zapatero’s government has struggled to carve out a role on the international stage, following the withdrawal of troops from Iraq after his election in 2003, despite the presence of Spanish troops in Afghanistan and Lebanon. His most high–profile international initiative, reviving the “alliance of civilisations” to foster better relations between Western and muslim countries, has been dismissed by critics at home as wishy-washy.

Jacques Chirac, French president, said Mr Zapatero had proposed the joint initiative when they met at the beginning of the summit, according to Reuters. The two had arranged to call Roman Prodi, the Italian prime minister, to discuss the initiative.

Mr Chirac said France would “act jointly” with Spain, Italy and other European countries to “try to initiate indispensable moral and political reforms in the Middle East.”

The peace initiative would include an exchange of prisoners, talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and an international mission to monitor the proposed ceasefire.

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