The Palestinians' bid for statehood is starting to create cracks in European unity, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Monday, after discussing the issue with his European Union counterparts in Luxembourg.
"You see two tendencies appearing more and more among the 27 [member states]," he told reporters as he left the meeting, saying that "a lot of energy" would be needed to keep them unified.
Despite attempts by EU negotiators to come up with an alternative, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last month unilaterally asked the United Nations Security Council to accept Palestinian membership of the world body - in effect recognizing its statehood.
The United States have pledged to veto the request, which Israel opposes.
France has itself been pushing the limits of EU unity by suggesting that the UN grant the Palestinians the status of observer state - less than the full membership they are seeking. Germany is among those resisting the idea.
Juppe said the EU ministers instructed the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to continue working on a renewal of the stalled Middle East peace process and a "balanced" UN solution.
The Middle East Quartet - which the EU participates in, along with the U.S., Russia and the UN - has been trying to get the two sides to resume negotiations, which most people agree will have to be completed successfully to ensure a viable Palestinian state.
"I don't see any division" among EU countries on that point, Ashton told reporters.
The Palestinians have "given guarantees not to accelerate" their statehood bid to give Europe a chance to get both sides back to the negotiating table, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters in Luxembourg.
After Abbas' UN appeal, the Quartet called on both parties to commit to a meeting to be held no later than October 23, with the objectives of reaching an agreement by the end of 2012.
Ashton said on Sunday that Quartet envoys meeting in Brussels agreed to "invite (the parties) to meet in the coming days."
But Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez criticized that statement as being "clearly insufficient," expressing frustration at the EU's unwillingness to use its "moral force" to jump-start the peace talks.
"We cannot continue issuing statements calling on parties to go back to the negotiating table. We all know that already," she said.
"It is now up to the EU to exercise greater leadership."
Ashton was due to talk to Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night to urge them to meet soon.
"There is no new magic formula in this," she said. "What we know are the issues that need to be addressed. The question is the political will to address them."
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