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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Solana shocked at growth of Israeli settlements in West Bank

Last update - 08:44 22/01/2007   

Solana shocked at growth of Israeli settlements in West Bank
By Haaretz Service and DPA

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana Sunday 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 that on a tour he held on Saturday in West Bank Arab towns on Jerusalem's eastern slopes, he was struck by the growth of settlements and the defense 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.
Solana: All sides have 'political will' to restart peace process
Earlier on Sunday, Solana said the time was opportune for relaunching peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, thanks to the existence of "political will" on the part of all players he met recently.
Judging by "the talks I have had with different actors in the United States and in the region, I think the political will is there for moving the peace process," Solana told a press conference before leaving for Israel on the last leg of a regional tour.
Solana met Sunday with Jordan' King Abdullah III on the prospects of pushing ahead the peace negotiations. Earlier Sunday he visited Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
According to a royal court statement, King Abdullah "underscored the importance of the EU upgrading its role in efforts aimed at reinvigorating the peace process and ensuring the availability of appropriate circumstances for resuming negotiations."
Abdullah also urged a "reactivation of the Quartet's role in the forthcoming stage with a view to working out peace that will be based on UN resolutions, the Arab peace initiative and the setting up of an independent Palestinian state" that lives in peace with Israel, the statement said.
Solana said that with the availability of political will, "the approach" to the Middle East conflict should now be changed from "a mood of crisis management to a kind of solution."
He expressed hope that a meeting to be held by the Middle East Quartet in New York on February 2 would be crucial in terms efforts aimed at pushing the peace negotiations forward between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Solana indicated that the EU and regional governments supported a "final status solution" between Israel and the Palestinians, who rejected recently a proposal by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for setting up a Palestinian state with interim borders.
Solana said that he planned "to sound out" Israeli leaders on this issue when he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later Sunday. Solana's visit to Jerusalem included talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Solana was also scheduled to meet with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib to discuss efforts by the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers to spur the stalled talks, the officials said.

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