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EU - visits Israel and Palestinian Territories

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner visits Israel and Palestinian Territories 7 and 8 February

The European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner will visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories on 7 and 8 February, following a visit to Egypt. She arrives in the region at a moment when the prospects for making progress to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have risen significantly. On the eve of the Sharm el Sheikh summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders she will meet the key players on both sides: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as well as other senior figures. Her visit underlines the EU’s determination to play its part in supporting a new drive for peace, through its relationship with both sides, and its closeness to other key actors. The Commissioner will meet President Mubarak in Cairo on 7 February.

Before setting off to the region, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said: “I am enormously heartened by the courageous actions being taken by partners on both sides. I welcome Israel’s announced intention to withdraw security forces from five West Bank towns, and to release substantial numbers of Palestinian prisoners. At the same time, I applaud President Abbas’s swift action to deploy Palestinian forces along the Gaza border and to seek a ‘cease-fire’. Further bold actions are necessary on both sides, but a promising start has been made. At Sharm el Sheikh we all hope to see the declaration of a truce, and a determination to pursue a peace process that can bring hope to people throughout the region.”

She added: “The European Commission will continue to support moves for peace, and a two state solution within the framework of the Road Map. During my visit I will be discussing the conditions under which the Commission can provide support for Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza, and how, through financial assistance and other means, we can continue to promote the reforms so essential to building a Palestinian state with good standards of governance and respect for the rule of law”.

In Israel, the Commissioner will express her conviction that the election of a new Palestinian President presents an opportunity that must be seized. She will underline that, to maintain the current positive momentum, it will be necessary for all sides to help demonstrate concrete benefits for the Palestinian people if all factions choose the path of peace. In this context she will urge Israel to match improvements in security with new measures to improve freedom of movement for Palestinian people and goods, without which economic revival in the territories will not be possible.

In discussions with Palestinian leaders, the Commissioner will urge further efforts to step up security and an end to incitement. Alongside the consolidation of a ceasefire, she will insist on the importance of re-launching reform efforts, in particular in rule of law, judiciary modernisation, and further work to improve financial transparency.

She will make clear that the EU, already the biggest donor in the Palestinian Territories, will continue to provide funds, including through the World Bank Trust Fund and the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA). In 2004 €250 million were made available from the European Community budget.

The visit will provide an opportunity to hold preliminary talks with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders on the implementation of the Action Plans that have been concluded under the European Neighbourhood Policy. In each case the Plans will help cement bilateral political and trade relations with the EU, and support the rebuilding of confidence between those who have lived in conflict for too long.

For more information:

The EU & the Middle East Peace Process:

>http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/mepp/index.htm

The EU's relations with Israel:

>http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/israel/intro/index.htm

The EU's relations with West Bank and Gaza Strip:

>http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/gaza/intro/index.htm


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