European reaction to U.S. support for Israel's West Bank plans was reserved on Thursday. The EU and the German government warned that both Israelis and Palestinians must agree to any border changes.
EU leaders are unenthusiastic about Bush backing Sharon's plans
European Union leaders responded cautiously to U.S. President George W. Bush's announcement that Israel could keep Arab land it captured in 1967. They made clear that they would not accept a unilateral change to Middle East borders.
"The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties," Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said in a statement on Wednesday, quoting the stance the EU has repeatedly taken.
Cowen also pointed out that the Road Map meant to chart the course to a Middle East peace plan required that a final agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must also resolve the refugee issue.
EU will discuss proposals
The so-called Middle East quartet, which is made up of the EU, Russia and the United Nations, along with the United States, will examine the plan agreed on by President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Javier Solana, the EU's top diplomat, said Wednesday. EU ministers will discuss the matter on Friday at a meeting in Tullamore, Ireland, the Irish foreign minister announced.
Cowen tried to put a positive shine on Bush and Sharon's talks, despite the fact that the Palestinians and some experts on the region say the U.S. policy change has dealt a deadly blow to the peace process. Cowen welcomed Bush's affirmation that the U.S. is committed to the Road Map and a two state solution.
The German government's statement echoed the EU's. Germany praised the talks between Bush and Sharon, which it said got the peace process moving again, as well as Israel's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will discuss the issues in the coming days in meetings planned with the Egyptian president, the Lebanese prime minister and the Israeli president, government spokesman Béla Anda said in the statement. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also welcomed Israel's plans to leave the Gaza Strip and stressed that the Road Map must be adhered to.
An "affront" to the Quartet
An Israeli soldier keeps watch at a machine gun post overlooking the Jewish settlement of Netzarim and surrounding Palestinian lands several kilometers inside the Gaza Strip in this Oct. 26, 2003 file photo.
But Chancellor Schröder's fellow party member Gernot Erler, the Social Democrats' foreign policy spokesman, called it an "affront to the EU, Russia and the United Nations" that the United States accepted Israel's settlement policies. "Bush's policies deepen the rift between the United States and the Arab world," he told DW-TV.
After talks with Sharon in Washington, Bush said he endorsed the Israeli leader's plans to pull out of the Gaza Strip but keep land in the West Bank indefinitely. Israeli forces occupied the areas in 1967. Bush said that "new realities on the ground" should be reflected in a final settlement. He added that any Palestinian refugees who wished to return to their former homes should be accommodated in Palestinian territory.
"Of course, Bush didn't say anything particularly surprising," Deutsche Welle correspondent Peter Philip commented. "Nobody seriously expected that history would be turned back to June 5, 1967 or even further back. But peace must be based on a compromise between the conflicting parties and not on conditions dictated from the outside." Bush managed to endanger both the creation of a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East by backing Sharon's plan, Philip said.