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Europe

Giving Peace a Chance in the Middle East

In Israel a European Union delegation is busy working on breathing new life into the peace process.

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Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat: working towards peace in the Middle East

In Israel a high-level European Union delegation has started a series of meetings aimed at reviving the Middle East peace negotiations. The delegation, under the leadership of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, stressed that the time was right to resume the peace process.

"The Europeans want to underline that after the 12 days of relative quiet recently there is a need to relaunch the process," Verhofstadt stated at a press conference on Saturday after meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"There's a good chance to relaunch the peace process, not only because of the quiet but because now in the international community there is agreement... that if you want to find a solution to the conflict, you have to establish an independent Palestinian state."

When the EU delegation meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday, it is expected that Verhofstadt will emphasize the establishment of a viable Palestinian as a central element of any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Last Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres came out in support of the creation of an independent Palestinian state during his address to the United Nations. Peres said on Sunday he has not changed his position: " I am in favor of a Palestinian state. I have never hidden my views and did not join the government in order to give them up," he announced on Army Radio. "Even the Prime Minister (Sharon) spoke out on the issue of a Palestinian state," Peres said.

The EU delegation is also expected to urge Israel to give up its requirement of a seven day cease fire before sitting down for talks. In the past Sharon has brought forth this argument as a reason for not meeting with Palestinian authorities, but the EU criticizes as an unnecessary stumbling block. The Israeli Radio announced on Sunday that Jerusalem would stick to the seven-day prerequisite no matter what Verhofstadt says.

The EU talks come just ahead of a speech by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday. Powell is expected to address the same points and thereby add new momentum to attempts to end Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Javier Solana

photoarchive.ap Chief of European Union for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, surrounded by the media, leaves the presidential office in Skopje, Macedonia Thursday, June 21, 2001, following his talks with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, leaders of the twobiggest Macedonian and two biggest ethnic Albanian parties and representatives of all other ethnic minorities in Macedonia. From Macedonia, Javier Solana is continuing his trip to Israel. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

The foreign policy coordinator for the EU, Javier Solana, who accompanied the EU delegation to the Middle East, reiterated the need to come to a solution as quickly as possible. "Israel and Palestine both need to be willing to work together on the peace process, and now appears to be the right time," Solana said after a meeting with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

The meeting with EU delegates coincides with an Israeli announcement to withdraw troops from the West Bank town of Tulkarm, one of six Palestinian controlled areas occupied after the killing of an Israeli cabinet minister last month. Israel still remains in Palestinian areas around Jenin, but is widely expected to remove its forces before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits the US next month.