Despite the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East, the EU is determined to stick to its strategy of open dialogue with both sides.
Javier Solana, the director of EU foreign policy, wants to work on bringing peace to the Middle East
On Friday the European Union came out strong against Israel’s decision to sever ties with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, saying the Palestinian Authorities were the only legitimate partners in the peace dialogue.
Next to Afghanistan, the conflict in the Middle East is one of the central foreign affairs topics in a two-day summit of EU leaders in Laeken, Belgium.
"Weakening Arafat cannot help the peace process," said Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
During a press conference on the first day of the summit Michel told reporters, "The democratically elected President Arafat and the Palestinian Authorities are the sole interlocutors for Israel in this conflict".
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer stated that Arafat was the EU’s partner in the peace negotiations. "It is the decision of the Palestinian people who they decide to represent them," and the international community must respect this.
Israel cut off ties with Arafat following a wave of deadly Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers earlier this week. The Israeli government, under the direction of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, declared the Palestinian leader "irrelevant" for further peace negotiations and accused him of being directly responsible for the ceaseless violence.
Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy director, is scheduled to travel to Washington where he will meet with US officials to forge a new peace initiative for the region.
Earlier in the week the EU had applied a great deal of pressure on Arafat to end the intifada against Israel and dismantle what it referred to as the "terrorist networks" of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Although European leaders played down their obvious tilt in favor of Israel, they could not deny the fact that their harsh words at the beginning of the week were aimed at forcing the two sides to get back to the negotiation table.
"It was decided that a message should be sent to the Israelis on their behavior and to the Palestinians on what we expect of them," Michel said.
At the end of the Laeken summit on Saturday the EU will issue a declaration on its position with regard to the Middle East.