Fayyad: World must act to halt West Bank settlement growth
Palestinian PM 'disappointed' by recent EU decision to continue strengthening ties with Israel.
The international community must do more to hold Israel accountable - particularly on its accelerated West Bank settlement construction - if peace efforts are to have a chance, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said in an interview Saturday.
Fayyad said he is disappointed by a recent European Union decision to continue strengthening ties with Israel, without linking such an upgrade to a settlement freeze. However, he said he'll keep pressing.
"If I am disappointed, I am certainly not discouraged," Fayyad said. "The point is, there is much better awareness in Europe now of this issue, something which did not exist before."
EU leaders decided earlier this month to upgrade political ties with Israel, but have not yet voted on an improved economic relationship, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
Palestinian leaders often complain about a failure to take Israel to task for breaking commitments, such as a settlement freeze required by the United States-backed road map plan.
However, in recent months, Fayyad has tried a new approach, proposing practical steps in which European countries could help curb settlement expansion.
In May, he wrote to 27 EU nations, proposing the link between an upgrade in Israel-EU ties and halting settlement construction. Fayyad also exchanged letters with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said he wants to make sure products from West Bank settlements are denied favorable EU tariffs.
Under a 2003 agreement between Israel and the EU, settlement products must be clearly labeled. Brown wrote Dec. 9 that he wants to make sure the agreement is implemented effectively and any abuse of the system fully investigated. Brown also wrote that he's looking into ways to discourage British citizens from buying property in settlements.
Fayyad would not say whether he's found other European leaders as receptive as Brown.
Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the issue of settlements should be dealt with at the negotiating table, and not be singled out. "We hear all these protests and condemnations," he said. "What we say is that the way to solve this issue is through negotiations."
Fayyad noted he's not seeking an economic boycott of Israel.
"After all, Israel is our largest trading partner, and I foresee that situation to continue for many years to come," Fayyad said. "This is about saying your settlements are illegal under international law."
Fayyad said he is astounded that the fateful issue of West Bank settlements, home to nearly 300,000 Israelis, has not been raised in Israel's election campaign. Tens of thousands of settlers would have to be evicted from West Bank homes as part of any peace deal.
Israeli elections are set for Feb. 10, and Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, faces a tough challenge from hardline opposition leader Benjamim Netanyahu who is believed to oppose a large-scale West Bank withdrawal in the near future.
Many Israelis are skeptical about peace prospects, saying Fayyad's boss, President Mahmoud Abbas, does not have a clear mandate to negotiate as long as Gaza remains under the control of the Islamic militant Hamas. A year of talks produced little progress.
Fayyad said the negotiations will not move forward unless the international community gets more involved, and holds both sides accountable. "Without such involvement, we are not really going to get the desired result of ending this conflict anytime soon," he said.
"We owe it to this third party to be accountable to them, and one way is to deliver on commitments that we make," he said. "The same should be demanded of Israel."