The President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, Slovenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel, last night attended the meeting of the ‘Quartet’ of Middle East peace negotiators in Berlin, where he represented the European Union alongside the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The US delegation is headed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Russian Federation delegation by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, participated at the conference from New York through video link.
At the meeting, the Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs first of all stressed the need for the Quartet to encourage Israel and the Palestinian Authorities to enter a decisive phase in their negotiations. The ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is a step in the right direction and one of the key conditions for attaining the goals set during last year’s Annapolis conference.
“The situation is still of great concern,” declared Dr Rupel, assessing that Israel had to be persuaded to halt the construction of new settlements and that measures were needed to improve access to and movement within the Palestinian territories. He also underlined the importance of joint efforts to strengthen security in the Palestinian territories. “The European Union will contribute to the Palestinian economy, to institution building and security,” assured the Slovenian Foreign Minister. Efforts to support measures aimed at enhancing mutual trust should also be intensified. Dr Rupel considered that the negotiation process should be pursued regardless of any potential policy changes in Israel or of internal Palestinian reconciliation talks. In view of the Gaza ceasefire, now was the time to consider ways to deal with the new situation. The Slovenian Foreign Minister took the view that it was precisely the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that would enable Israel to ease its restrictions and to open up crossing points for humanitarian and trade activities.