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PNA Pleased Israel Accepts EU Peace Process Role

PNA, EU Welcome Israeli Change of Heart on European Role in Peace Process

The European Union and the Palestine National Authority (PNA), frustrated by Israeli approach of piecemeal implementation of the Middle East “roadmap” plan, were relieved Monday as Israelis called for the EU to play a major part in the search for peace.

Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath, who met the EU ministers in Brussels Monday, declared that the European Union represented a "guarantee" for his people in the peace process and said they had full confidence in Europe.

The EU foreign ministers reiterated their support for the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, saying it was important to remain in touch with all Palestinian interlocutors, including Arafat and Abbas.

“The Council underlined that the Palestinian Authority and its government deserves support by everybody,” the ministers said in a joint declaration.

On the issue of boycotting Arafat, Shaath said he was “fully assured that there is an absolute unanimity by Europe, and that includes the Italian presidency, the countries, the new members as well as the present members, to support the democratically-elected Palestinian president and also to give full support to prime minister Abbas.”

Shaath, after his 90-minute meeting with 25 European foreign ministers, denied the claim of his Israeli counterpart that more European countries believed that Arafat was an obstacle in the peace process.

He said: “There is unanimity in the European Union and the EU presidency in extending support to Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen, both elected leaders of Palestine.”

The EU confirmed Shaath statement.

“But it was made very clear to Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan) Shalom that the EU will continue to deal with Arafat as appropriate,” spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.

Shaath and Shalom shook hands during the meetings.

Speaking to reporters after his session with the EU ministers Shaath said he was “very happy if Israel really supports the role of Europe in implementing the roadmap,” adding: “Europe is a vital partner in this peace process. Without its role, I think it will be very difficult to implement.”

Silvan Shalom on his part told European Union counterparts Monday he would welcome greater European involvement, warming toward a continent Israel has long viewed as biased in favor of the Palestinians -- an allegation the EU denies.

“I don't accept the formula that has existed for many years, that Israel can live without Europe and Europe can live without Israel,” he said. “That's why I'm encouraging the EU all the time to play a key role in the peace process, and more than that, I'm trying to convince the Israelis that there is a change in the European Union,” Shalom said after a separate meeting his 25 European counterparts.

As evidence of change, Shalom noted the EU’s first-time role as co-author, with the United States, Russia and the United Nations, of the current “roadmap” for Mideast peace.

Asked about the refusal of the Europeans to agree to Israeli demands for a boycott of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Shalom said: “Among friends we can agree to disagree.”

But he added: “I think that now more countries are aware that Arafat becomes an obstacle to peace.”

EU officials welcomed Israel’s new tone. “It's a very positive development,” said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana.

The “roadmap” is the process of reaching a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, due to culminate in the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

The EU is one of the four members of the Quartet seeking to bring peace to the Middle East (the others being the United Nations, the United States and Russia) and Shaath urged the Europeans to make their voices heard in discussions within it.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Europe had done a lot to revive international diplomatic efforts and help the Palestinians prepare for a new attempt to find a settlement, but the EU also needed better ties with Israel.

“It is a very good opportunity now to improve relationships, especially between the European Union and Israel,” he told reporters on arrival at the meeting.

“The EU contributed a lot to the road map, to the reform of the Palestinian Authority institutions and the creation of the prime minister. We stick to the full implementation of the road map, especially the monitoring process, but once more I think more constructive relations between the EU and Israel could be helpful.”

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