EU backs Palestinian state even if split on UN vote
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union reiterated the bloc's support for a Palestinian state Thursday despite splits between its 27 member states over granting upgraded status to the Palestinians at the United Nations.
"The EU has repeatedly expressed its support and wish for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations as part of a solution to the conflict," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
"The EU reiterates its readiness to recognise a Palestinian state when appropriate," she added.
But her statement underlined that "only a political solution to the conflict can bring lasting security, peace and prosperity to Palestinians and Israelis."
Despite hopes the 27 EU nations might line up on a single position at the UN -- for, against, or abstaining -- the bloc remained divided hours before the 2000 GMT vote.
The EU is Israel's leading economic partner and the Palestinians' leading donor. But in the end, the bloc split three ways: "yes", "no" and "abstain".
While three EU nations had been expected to vote against -- the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands, in the end, Germany and the Netherlands decided to abstain.
The Czechs seemed to be the only EU member to have come out against the Palestinian bid. A two-state solution could only be reached through through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, said a Czech ministry statement Thursday.
Security Council member France was the first European state to come out in favour of the Palestinian bid, on Tuesday. It was followed by Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Spain. Diplomats expect around 15 EU nations to back the Palestinians.
But another Security Council member, Britain, said it was likely to abstain.
Foreign minister William Hague said Wednesday that Britain would abstain unless the Palestinians undertook to resume talks with Israel and foreswear any move to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Baltic states Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania will all abstain, expressing regret the EU couldn't muster a common stance.
Hungary also announced plans to abstain, as did Slovenia and Bulgaria, which said "the proposed resolution will not change for better the situation between Israel and the Palestinians."
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said it was "disappointing" the EU was unable to reach a common position.
But a senior EU official said the divisions did not mirror deep-seated differences between the EU states.
"We see pretty well eye-to-eye. Even if there is a three-way split there is a good understanding for the way forward on the peace process," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ashton's statement said "a comprehensive negotiated peace, which is a fundamental interest of the EU, as well as the parties in the region, must and can be achieved on the basis of a two-state solution.
"Looking ahead after today's vote, it is important for all parties and actors involved to work towards a settlement of the conflict with renewed purpose and sense of urgency," Ashton said.
She urged both sides in the conflict "to refrain from actions" that could undermine the peace process.
"The European Union urges both sides to seek constructive ways to overcome the current obstacles for a resumption of direct negotiations without delay or preconditions."
The Palestinians are poised to gain the backing of a majority of the UN's 193 member states, despite the opposition of the United States, Israel and some other countries.