BRUSSELS/JERUSALEM (EJP)---"Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of a two-state solution. They also run contrary to the long-term interests of Israel for peace and security," said Monday EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at a press conference after a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels
The ministers had what Ashton described as a "substantial discussion" on the Middle East Peace Process. They agreed new Conclusions on this issue in which they reaffirm the EU’s commitment to a two-state solution and "the need to be aware of the aspirations of the people of the region, including those of the Palestinians for statehood and those of the Israelis for security."
In these Conclusions, the EU expressed "deep concern" about "developments on the ground" which, it said, "threaten to make a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians impossible," citing "the marked acceleration of settlement construction following the end of the 2010 moratorium, the recent decision of the government of Israel regarding the status of some settlements outposts, ongoing evictions and house demolitions in East-Jerusalem as well as the proposal to relocate settlers from Migron within the occupied Palestinian territory."
The EU also denounced "settler extremism and incitement by settlers in the West Bank." "The EU condemns continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians. It calls on the government of Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law."
Ashton told reporters: "We are very concerned about the critical health condition of the Palestinians held in Israeli administrative detention who have been on hunger strike for more than two months. There are positive signals about a possible solution and I urge Israel and all sides to do everything possible to find an immediate solution to the current situation and prevent any a loss of lif."
She said the EU "welcomed the exchange of letters between the parties and Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that the new Israeli Government will try to advance the peace process." "We believe that this should be an urgent priority and I hope progress will be made without delay," she added.
"We condemned the rocket attacks into Israel and expressed in unequivocal terms our fundamental commitment to the security of Israel."
In its response to the EU declaration, Israel said "it does not contribute to advancing the peace process."
"The conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on the Middle East Peace Process include a long list of claims and criticism that are based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground. Such a public presentation does not contribute to advance the process," an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman declared.
"Israel is committed to the well-being of the Palestinian population and acts according to all relevant international conventions. In Area C, for instance, 119 projects were authorized in 2011, through continuous dialogue with representatives of countries and other donors, in order insure that planned projects are coordinated and in conformity with local urban master plans and with the law."
The spokesman added: "Israel takes note of the EU's consideration of Israel's security needs, of the FAC's call to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, of the condemnation of rocket fire from Gaza, as well as of the concern raised by the FAC regarding the continued Palestinian incitement against Israel."