Last updated: 18 July, 2011

EU presses Israel and Palestinians ahead of UN vote

European foreign ministers pressed Israel and the Palestinians on Monday to return to the negotiating table before a UN vote on recognising a Palestinian state, which could reveal divisions within the EU.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sought to play down the risks involved in any UN resolution on a Palestinian state which is expected to be presented at the United Nations in September.

“I don’t think it’s a diplomatic tragedy for us and we don’t yet know what the resolution will be,” Ashton said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

EU states, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, are “reserving our position for the moment” on the possible recognition of a Palestinian state.

“We will see of course what happens over the coming weeks,” Hague said. “We want Israeli and Palestinians to return to direct talks.”

He added: “The position on recognition is one that we will decide on if necessary come September, but it is far preferrable for talks to resume.”

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the more pressing issue is to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“For us this is the most important thing because before recognition it’s very necessary, it’s urgent to go back to the negotiations in order to know exactly the consequences of this recognition,” she said.

The Palestinians have been looking to seek statehood at the UN General Assembly in September amid a long stalemate in negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Israel and the United States oppose this move.

The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East — the United States, Russia, EU and UN — failed last week to reach an agreement on a joint declaration on the peace process.

“We are still working in the Quartet to see if we can pull together a statement,” Ashton said. “It’s not easy because the purpose of this statement is to get the talks going again, so it needs to be very inclusive.”