JERUSALEM, (AFP) — The EU’s top diplomat had a terse exchange with Israel’s Avigdor Lieberman on Friday after he told her there was “zero chance” of reviving talks given the Palestinians’ bid for UN recognition.
The exchange occurred during an early breakfast briefing during which EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held talks with the Israeli foreign minister over ways to resume talks ahead of September when the Palestinians are planning to approach the UN to recognise their state on the 1967 borders.
But Lieberman told her there was “zero chance” of resuming peace talks given the Palestinians determination to seek UN support for their state, and that if it happened, it would render null and void the 1993 Oslo Accords and all the other agreements reached since.
“The unilateral declaration at the United Nations would mean the end of the Oslo Agreement and a violation of all the agreements that were signed up to today,” Lieberman was widely quoted as saying by all the mainstream Israel news websites and radio stations.
“Israel would no longer be bound to the agreements that were signed with the Palestinians over the past 18 years.”
In a tersely-worded statement released hours after the talks, Ashton said the European Union was “well aware that September is fast approaching” and stressed the urgency of resuming talks given the ongoing regional upheaval and last month’s call by US President Barack Obama for talks to be based on the 1967 borders.
“With the events of the Arab Spring and following President Obama’s speech, it is more urgent than ever to engage in meaningful negotiations and move the peace process forward,” she said, noting that the message was passed on “very clearly.”
Lieberman also launched an attack on Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, claming he “does not want an agreement, he wants conflict” with Israel.
“By looking to secure a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, Mahmud Abbas is acting out of his own personal interests, without taking into account Palestinian interests nor the advice of many officials in the Palestinian Authority who are opposed to his initiative,” public radio quoted him as saying.
Lieberman was referring to a growing number of media reports suggesting there is division within the Palestinian leadership over the UN strategy.
Later on Friday, Ashton will meet Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad then have dinner with Abbas before flying to Cairo on Saturday.
Ashton is hoping to convene an urgent session of the Middle East Quartet in the coming weeks, with diplomatic sources in Brussels telling AFP she was pushing for a meeting in Washington which would take place by early July at the latest.
On June 10, she wrote to her fellow Quartet principals — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — calling for the adoption of statement consolidating elements of Obama’s May 19 speech.
“It is critical that we make a gesture before the summer, because we need to contribute to a calming of a volatile situation,” she wrote in her letter, adding: “This is no time for unilateral moves on either side, since this could lead to escalation.”
Ashton is just one of a number of world leaders working to find a way to head off potentially volatile developments in September when the Palestinians approach the United Nations to request membership and recognition by the 192-member body in a move fiercely opposed by Israel.
After visiting Cairo, Ashton will return to Israel on Sunday for a joint meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, an EU spokesman said.
She will then fly to Luxembourg to brief the EU’s 27 foreign ministers on Monday.