Azerbaijan , Baku, Sept. 28 / Trend A. Isgandarov/
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday that she expects Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to start within four weeks, WAFA reported.
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the Middle East conflict, Ashton said that after seven trips to the region so far this year and after listening to the Palestinian and Israeli speeches at the United Nations last week, she decided that "now is the time to seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians on the basis of a negotiated agreement that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state as a core element of the peace agreement, and will end the occupation that is so detrimental to the development of both peoples."
Ashton said that she realized that "the way forward was to put together a package of various actions with the objective of getting Israelis and Palestinians together in talks."
As a result, "it became clear that a quartet statement and possibly a (UN) General Assembly resolution in addition to what President (Mahmoud) Abbas is seeking to do would be part of such a package."
The quartet, that includes, in addition to the EU, the United States, the UN and Russia, came up with a statement Friday calling on Palestinians and Israelis to enter into negotiations within four weeks, to agree on the issues of territory and security within three months, to have made substantial progress within six months, and to reach an agreement by the end of next year.
"We expect both sides to agree to come to negotiations within four weeks," said Ashton, calling on the EU, including the European Parliament, to play a central role in that process.
"We are well placed and I will stay personally involved," she said.
The EU chief said that it has become clear that the EU role is now "a player and a payer," explaining that the EU's financial commitment is now matched by its political strength.
"For too long the EU has been on the sidelines of the peace process," she said.
Ashton took note in her speech of Israel's decision to build 1100 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo.
"The quartet has called the parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to resume and be effective," she said.
"It is therefore with deep regret that I have learnt today about the decision to advance settlement expansion in East Jerusalem with new housing units in Gilo. This plan should be reversed. Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and runs contrary to the Israeli stated commitment to resume negotiations," she said.
Ashton, praising the Palestinian Authority's state-building efforts as "impressive achievements," said that she has called for a donor conference to further support these efforts.
She said that she will consult on additional steps "that will quickly lead to greater independence and sovereignty for the Palestinians over their affairs."
"Facilitating Palestinian trade is essential to support state-building and develop the Palestinian economy. We have proposed concrete action to open our markets to Palestinian agricultural and fishery products and I am glad that earlier today the European Parliament voted in favor of this important agreement," she said.
Ashton said that Gaza remains a priority, urging opening the crossing "to allow the flow of humanitarian aid, imports, exports and people."
"We need to enable children to go to school and ordinary people, and the younger generation in particular, to get on with and build their lives," she said.