Ruadhan MacCormaic
The Irish Times
December 16, 2009 - 1:00am

THE EUROPEAN Union’s new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will travel to the Middle East early next year to press for a resumption of peace talks.

Baroness Ashton, appointed last month as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, is expected to visit Jerusalem in early February to keep pressure on Israel to halt settlement building and urge Palestinians back to negotiations.

Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, she reiterated that the time was ripe for a resumption of peace talks, which have been suspended for a year.

“We now need to think about how we can re-engage a political process,” Baroness Ashton said.

She said the EU intended to work closely with the US to encourage the Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks with a fixed time frame. This follows a statement by EU foreign ministers last week calling for a resumption of peace talks and for Jerusalem to be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, Labour Party MEP Proinsias de Rossa briefed the parliament on Israel’s decision to withdraw permission from a delegation of MEPs to visit Gaza earlier this month.

Mr de Rossa, who chairs the delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he was “seriously concerned about this interference” in the parliament’s democratic role.

He said permission to enter Gaza was granted by Israeli authorities and then withdrawn later the same day. “In the meantime, the European Council published its statement on what it believed to be the way forward for a two-state solution. So one can only put two and two together and assume that it was a fit of pique,” he said.


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