EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sought to rectify concerns within the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the EU’s apparent “upgrade” in relations with Israel, following the long-awaited positive vote for the ACAA trade agreement at the European Parliament’s plenary session Tuesday, as she told PA Premier Salam Fayyad his administration had “demonstrated its ability to be a full partner for the EU” on a visit to Ramallah Wednesday.
Announcing a new five-year long European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan, she paid tribute to the “privileged bilateral partnership” the EU enjoys with the PA, adding, in comments certain to alarm the Jewish State, that “it is significant that the PA will be one of our first partners in the region to conclude such a plan, which reflects the EU’s new response to changes in the region”.
Fayyad responded to herald the EU’s “emphasis on supporting our political, social, economic and cultural rights in East Jerusalem”, after Ashton last week issued a statement “deeply regretting the decision by Israel to approve the expansion of Gilo settlement”, which Israel classifies as “an inseparable part of Jerusalem”, which it in turn describes as Israel’s “eternal capital”.
Fayyad concluded by expressing his “deep gratitude for the most generous support which the EU has extended to the PA in its drive to achieve state-readiness and its overall socio-economic development effort in the occupied Palestinian Territory in its entirety”.
On an official visit to Jerusalem on Wednesday, where she met with President Shimon Peres, Ashton confessed herself to be “pleased” by the ratification of the ACAA trade agreement by the European Parliament.
In a guarded statement, which steered away from commenting on the EU’s long-since critical position on Israel’s settlement policy, she cautioned that “the changes across the Arab world make the need for progress on the Middle East peace process all the more urgent”.
Similarly neglecting to comment on the recent surge in rocket attacks by Gaza’s Islamist Hamas, which the EU classifies as a terrorist organisation, on Southern Israel, she added: “Heeding the aspirations of the people in the region, including those of Palestinians for statehood and those of Israelis for security is a crucial element for lasting peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
A statement by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s office, however, revealed that during his own meeting with the foreign policy chief, he had warned her that the current state of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza was “intolerable”.
“No European state would allow such a reality in its territory as the residents of southern Israel are forced to suffer,” he added, cautioning that “Israel cannot continue to restrain itself”.