EU's Solana shocked at Israeli settlement growth

By Reuters


Shvat 4, 5767

AMMAN - EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Israel to freeze West Bank settlements and stop constructing the security fence. He hoped "the realities on the ground" brought about by Jewish settlement building would not "prevent a two-state solution from happening."

Solana said he was struck during a tour Saturday of West Bank Arab towns on Jerusalem's eastern slopes by the growth of settlements and the barrier cutting into land that Palestinians want for a state.

"I had the opportunity to make a tour along the eastern part of Jerusalem and go to Abu Dis and its surroundings. You get really very shocked every time you go and you see the situation worse, the wall is more extended and settlements are more extended," Solana told reporters in Amman.

Under the U.S.-backed road map, Israel was supposed to halt settlement construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians were also required to dismantle militant groups, a step they have yet to take.

The EU official said there was a "window of opportunity" that the international community and the parties to the conflict should seize to revive talks that collapsed in 2001 and have remained deadlocked since Hamas took power.

"We think there is an opportunity now, an opportunity that should not be let go by to open the political process that should end up with the resolution of the conflict," he said.

Solana said a new resolve was emerging among the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union - that raised hopes for progress when a planned meeting takes place in Washington on February 2.

"The political will is being constructed. It's been too long in which the suffering of people has been very deep ... and the moment we think has arrived to change the approach," he said.