|Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner will travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week (9-11 November) to hold talks with leading figures in the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Abu Mazen. |
The trip comes days after the EU gave agreement in principle to invitations from both parties to provide a third party presence on the Gaza/Egypt border, and this new initiative will be a major focus of the Commissioner’s visit.
Other topics will be the situation following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, the Commission’s recently published strategy for EU-Palestine cooperation, and the need for both parties to meet their Road Map obligations in full.
The Commissioner will also discuss with each side the implementation of their Action Plans under the European Neighbourhood Policy, which is helping to facilitate trilateral economic co-operation between the EU and the two parties.
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said:
“The re-opening of the border at Rafah is essential if we are to create the climate in which there can be further progress after the withdrawal from Gaza. The active monitoring mission that the EU is currently preparing should help rebuild confidence between the parties, improve Gaza’s economic prospects, and boost the Palestinians’ capacity, to manage their own borders - building on our very extensive programme of support for their customs operations”.
The Commissioner will discuss with Israel the scope for developing even further the EU/Israel relationship via the implementation of the ENP Action Plan adopted last year. Progress has already been made in areas such as consumer protection, standards, food safety and public procurement. Israel has been accepted as an observer at EUROPOL. The EU is looking closely at how Israel could be incorporated into other EU programmes and agencies.
“The European Commission has indicated that it is ready to press for a substantial increase in EC support to help the Palestinians prepare economically and politically for the creation of a viable state. But it is crucial that both sides do everything possible to create the conditions in which there can be full implementation of the Road Map and negotiations on even the most sensitive final issues. I look forward to hearing from both parties how they intend to take these matters forward”.
She will also call on Israel to refrain from actions that threaten to complicate negotiations on final status issues or that create new ‘facts on the ground’.
The Commissioner will set out the content of the recent Commission Communication “EU/Palestinian co operation beyond disengagement – towards a two state solution”, which sets out a strategy for supporting the preparation of an economically and politically viable, democratic Palestinian state. The Commission is ready to propose substantially increased assistance for the Palestinians, in line with the proposals made by Quartet Envoy Jim Wolfensohn, providing both parties are contributing to the re-launch of the peace process, and other donors are willing to do likewise.
She will also underline the need for the Palestinians to step up efforts to reform the security services, tackle incitement and dismantle terrorist infrastructure. Unstinting efforts must also be made to continue reforms in financial management, rule of law and the modernisation of the judiciary.
While making a success of Gaza disengagement is at the forefront of international concerns, it is important that the problems of East Jerusalem are not forgotten. The European Commission supports a range of projects designed to improve living standards there, and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner will visit a hospital which is part of one such project supporting health service provision in East Jerusalem.