Palestinian state 'premature'

2009-11-17 20:27

Brussels - The European Union on Tuesday joined the US in discouraging Palestinian intentions to seek international recognition of an independent state, urging instead a return to stalled peace talks with Israel.

"I don't think we are there yet," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told reporters in Brussels.

"I would hope that we would be in a position to recognise a Palestinian state but there has to be one first, so I think it is somewhat premature," he said.

The Palestinians said earlier this week that they intended to ask the UN Security Council to recognise a state in a move analysts said was aimed at pressuring Israel amid floundering US efforts to revive peace negotiations.

On Monday chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said his side had formally asked the EU, its biggest donor, for support.

But on Tuesday Europe joined Washington in saying that negotiations with Israel - currently stalled over the thorny issue of settlements - were the best way forward.

The United States, which has tried unsuccessfully for months to restart the talks suspended during the Gaza war at the turn of the year, said it was against any unilateral moves.

'The priority is to restart as soon as possible the peace process'

"We support the creation of a Palestinian state that is contiguous.... We are convinced that has to be achieved through negotiations between two parties," State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington on Monday.

On Tuesday, the sentiment was echoed in Europe.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the priority now should be "to really help the Americans bring both sides again to the table".

And French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned that the sides faced an extremist backlash each day they delay resuming talks.

"The priority is to restart as soon as possible the peace process," Sarkozy told the Saudi daily Al-Riyad.

"It is urgent because the current deadlock is the hands of extremists and each day the chance of peace is slipping away a little," he said. "The deadlock in which we find ourselves today is extremely worrying.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he will insist on a resumption of talks during his meeting later on Tuesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman and with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem the next day.

Deep disagreements

"We have to find ways to surmount the current obstacles," he told the Palestinian Al-Quds daily.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that, "Any unilateral action will undo the framework of past accords and lead to unilateral actions from Israel."

But a spokesperson for president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians had no other choice but to seek the option.

"It's Israel which is putting obstacles in the path of negotiations and not the Palestinian Authority," said Nabil Abu Rudeina.

"If Israel continues in its refusal to return to negotiations, we face no other choice than to turn to the international community to ask for its support, in particular the Security Council."

The restart of peace talks has been blocked by deep disagreements over the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which the international community considers illegal.

The Palestinians want a freeze on all settlement activity before talks resume, but Israel has only agreed to a partial and temporary ease in construction.

Although the administration of US President Barack Obama had initially backed the Palestinian demand, it has backed off in the face of dogged Israeli refusals, and today urges a return to negotiations without preconditions.

The presence of nearly half a million of Israelis in settlements built on occupied Palestinian land is among the thorniest in the decades-long Middle East conflict.