Ma'an News Agency
December 10, 2009 - 1:00am

Sweden’s Consul General in Jerusalem dismissed reports on Wednesday that the language of an EU statement on the Middle East had changed significantly from its original text which his country authored.

“There are very little substantive differences between the two,” Consul General Nils Eliasson said during an interview at Ma’an’s Bethlehem television studio.

“I feel that it has been used as an excuse to avoid some of the main items of the conclusion yesterday to argue that it was weak compared to the original draft,” he added.

Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, introduced the ministerial statement which was adopted by the Union’s 27 foreign ministers during a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

The statement reiterated that the EU never recognized Israeli control over East Jerusalem, and calls for Jerusalem to become, through negotiations, the capital of Israel and a future independent Palestine.

Palestinian officials and the Israeli government said the final document adopted a more moderate tone than an original draft which leaked to the media last week.

Key phrases in the statement were changed from the earlier version which was published by the Israeli daily Haaretz last week. A clause calling for reconciliation among Palestinian factions was removed, and additional references to negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel were added.

Eliasson said these adjustments were both minor and expected. “It is very normal when you have 27 countries that some texts are adjusted in the process,” he said.

He also said he could not comment on the PA’s accusation that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had steered the document in a more moderate direction.

He told Ma’an: “There are slight variations of opinion among European member states. It is clear that the European Union strives to have a common foreign policy decisions. We do not have it yet, and that is why foreign policy decisions are made by consensus.”

Eliasson also stressed that there were several references to negotiations in the statement, saying it did not represent a departure from traditional calls for talks.

“The European Union cannot negotiate on behalf of Palestinians,” he said. “What we can do is strengthen the capacity of the Palestinian side to have the knowledge and skills to make them able to serve their interest in negotiations with Israel.”

He also responded to the US State Department’s remark that Israel and the Palestinians themselves should determine the fate of Jerusalem.

“It is true of course that it is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate, but up until that moment, up until a final status agreement has been achieved, our point of departure is that East Jerusalem is occupied and that Jerusalem has to be shared between two states.”

Eilasson said the statement was mainly drafted by officials in Stockholm and Brussels, with input from his mission and from the heads of all the EU missions in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday evening a top PA official, At-Tayyib Abdul-Rahim criticized French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for weakening the language of the statement.

"Kouchner should not have adopted such a stance which agrees with Israeli plans to weaken the Swedish proposal which clearly talks about Jerusalem as capital of the Palestinian state,” Abdul-Rahim said.

Another prominent figure, former Information Minister Mustafa Barghouthi said the final statement was “disappointing” compared to the original.

Israel also tentatively welcomed the EU declaration, saying it was better than the original proposal.

“In light of the extreme draft originally presented by the Swedish presidency at the start of discussions, Israel does welcome the fact that at the end of the process the voices of the responsible and reasonable EU states prevailed, balancing and improving the text,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


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