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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission

Remarks on the Middle East peace process

European Parliament

Strasbourg 9 March 2011

I am grateful for the opportunity to have today's debate on the Middle East peace process. Achieving progress on the peace process is both urgent and important.

As this House knows, our Southern Neighbourhood and the wider Middle East are changing fast. We have seen historic events in Tunisia and Egypt - but also on-going violence in Libya, while protests continue in Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere.

So, while the region is in upheaval some have said this is not the time to focus on the stalled Israeli – Palestinian peace process. I believe the opposite is true. At this crucial moment, it is even more important to try to end to this conflict, as a key contribution towards a peaceful region.

This is the message I have delivered in my visits to the region in January and February and said in my discussions with President Abbas and PM Netenyahu. For the greater security of both peoples an agreement should be found

The EU has an important role in this process

The Foreign Affairs Council has set out its position clearly – most recently in our council conclusions in December: the only viable choice is a negotiated outcome on all final status issues. If there is to be genuine peace, there has to be a solution to the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states, with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security. The EU position on settlements is clear. Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.

I chaired the Quartet meeting in Munich on February 5. The EU went into this meeting seeking an invigorated Quartet and we managed to achieve that. We agreed together with our partners from the UN, US and Russia on an ambitious schedule. Last week Quartet envoys met in Brussels under the chairmanship of Helga Schmid, the Political Director and Deputy Secretary General of the EEAS with, for the first time, the Palestinians negotiators. Tomorrow, the Quartet envoys will meet the Israeli negotiators, again for the first time.

The envoys are now moving to prepare the next Principals meeting when Ban Ki Moon, Russian Minister Lavrov, Secretary Clinton and I will meet.

But if there is to be a two state solution, both must be viable. For that reason it is important that

the EU is the largest contributor to the Palestinians, and we remain committed to continue supporting their state-building plan and its implementation, both politically and financially. In this regard, the EU has already approved a first package of €100 million out of the €300 million earmarked for 2011. Funds for Institution-building have been further increased to reinforce Palestinian’s capacities on their way to statehood. This work is crucial for the establishment of the future State of Palestine.

As Honourable members know I have twice visited Gaza. After meeting with business, with civil society and with many children, we have proposed a comprehensive package of support, focusing on infrastructure, equipment and training for the Kerem Shalom crossing. This is specifically to support greater movement of goods – allowing exports to promote economic recovery. In both my visits to Gaza I called for a greater opportunity for the people there to develop the economy, provide jobs and a future for their children.

I also continue to call for the release of Gilad Shalit,

I will host the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, on 13 April led by Norway and we are in discussion on a donor conference in June

With Israel we had a useful and productive exchange of views at our Association Council on 22 February. We reviewed the Middle East Peace Process and other regional issues, in particular the dramatic changes occurring in the region.

We also discussed our bilateral relations and how best cooperation can go forward building on the current action plan.

Let me also welcome the Israeli readiness to meet with the Quartet envoys.

But I urge Israel to make positive moves now to find a solution –and support the move to direct talks as I believe it is in Israel's interest and long term security. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a vital role now in enabling the talks to get moving and a settlement found.

Honourable members I am very much looking forward to hearing from you so I will keep my remarks brief. But we all share the desire to see this conflict finally end and both parties – and the entire region move forward.

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