EU foreign policy chief
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Photo by Reuters
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The European Union decided Monday not to recognize unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, as such a move could harm efforts to resume the Middle East peace process.

The 27 EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels a day after chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wrote a letter to foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, urging the body to back its efforts to rope in the international community.

"The EU commends the work of the Palestinian Authority in building the institutions of the future State of Palestine and reiterates its full support for their endeavurs in this regard and the (Palestine Prime Minister Salam) Fayyad plan," the EU Foreign Affairs Council wrote in a statement.

"[The council] reiterates its readiness, when appropriate, to recognize a Palestinian state," it said in the statement, adding that "urgent progress is needed towards a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We want to see the State of Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security," resolved the council, emphasizing that "The legitimacy of the State of Israel and the right of Palestinians to achieve statehood must never be called into question."

EU foreign ministers "noted with regret" Israel's failure to extend a moratorium on construction of Jewish settlements, and took a stand at odds with the decision by the United States to drop efforts to persuade Israel to freeze settlement building.

"Our views on settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are clear: they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace," the ministers said in their statement.

The EU ministers agreed to help Gaza authorities expand the capacity of their border crossings by buying and installing security equipment, training border personnel and building up the road network.

Israel announced a further relaxation of its blockade this month, saying it would permit exports of manufactured goods. It eased import restrictions in June, but the EU says the movement of goods is still inadequate.

"The EU reiterates its call for the immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza," the EU foreign ministers said.

"Despite some progress following the decision of the Israeli government ... to ease the closure, changes on the ground have been limited and insufficient so far," they said.

Argentina and Brazil earlier this month did in fact recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, a move that Israel described as "highly regrettable" in the face of stalled peace talks.