Tue 3 Jun 2008
Palestinian PM urges EU not to upgrade Israel ties
By Mark John
BRUSSELS, June 3 (Reuters) — Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has written to the European Union urging the bloc not to upgrade ties with Israel at a meeting next month, according to a copy of a letter circulated on Tuesday.
The letter, distributed by a European Parliament lawmaker, accuses Israel of "flagrant disregard" of Palestinian rights by continuing to build Jewish settlements and of breaking commitments previously made by it to the 27-member EU.
"I strongly urge the EU to decide against the upgrade of its relations with Israel until such time as Israel abides by international and human rights laws, including by freezing all settlement activity," Fayyad wrote in the letter, dated May 27.
He accused Israel of breaching the terms of a seven-year-old association agreement with the EU by allowing products exported to the bloc from settled parts of the occupied territories as if they were manufactured in Israel.
European Parliament Vice-President Luisa Morgantini, the leftist Italian deputy who made the letter public, said it had been sent to the assembly, the European Commission, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the prime ministers of EU states.
EU foreign ministers are scheduled to debate whether to upgrade existing ties with Israel at a meeting on June 16 in Luxembourg despite their concern over its settlement policy, which they criticised again last week.
At issue is whether to deepen relations governed by the current association agreement, which sets out a schedule for regular political meetings, regulates trade and sets out areas of cooperation from internal security to education.
EU officials say the matter is still being discussed and that no decisions have been taken so far.
Days after Israel announced plans for 286 new homes in the West Bank, EU ministers issued a statement on May 26 stressing that settlement-building in the territories was illegal under international law, and urging Israel to freeze such activity.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the construction of new homes on occupied Arab land was undermining the peace process and warned negotiations could not continue if settlement activity went on.
A 2003 peace "road map", reaffirmed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a conference hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in November, requires a halt to all settlement activity on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in keeping with the previous government’s policy, has vowed to keep West Bank settlement blocs, including enclaves around Jerusalem, under any future peace accord.
Diplomats said Olmert had voiced irritation to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over Palestinian and Egyptian lobbying of the EU to put pressure on Israel over settlement expansion.
Egypt said in a statement after meeting EU officials in April it was "deeply alarmed" by what it called the escalation of Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (Reporting by Mark John, editing by Paul Taylor and Ibon Villelabeitia)