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French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos are promoting an initiative by which the European Union would recognize a Palestinian state in 18 months, even before negotiations for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are concluded.

According to senior European diplomats and senior Israeli officials, Israel has relayed its opposition to the initiative - warning that it would undermine any chance of a successful peace process.

A senior European diplomat noted that Israel was informed about the initiative several weeks ago, a fact confirmed by a senior Israeli official. The Israeli official said the initiative is being spearheaded by Kouchner who recruited the support of the Spanish foreign minister, whose country also currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Israeli sources say the two foreign ministers are preparing an article they intend to publish together in some of the main European dailies. The main message of the article is that the European Union should recognize a Palestinian state before the completion of negotiations, under the assumption that such a declaration will be made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The initiative is based on a plan by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to establish a Palestinian state in two years, which is the time he estimates is needed for the development of state institutions, economic reforms and a completion of the necessary training of Palestinian security forces that would bring law and order to the West Bank.

The Fayyad plan was developed more than six months ago and the Franco-Spanish initiative is meant to bolster it, promising recognition by the European block.

Israel has responded to Kouchner and Moratinos by expressing clear opposition to the initiative, noting it was contrary to the principles of the peace process. "An imposed solution will not achieve the goals," Israel stressed in its message.

"If the European Union will determine the results of the negotiations in advance and promises the Palestinians recognition of a state, they will have no motivation to resume negotiations," the Israeli message states.

"The issue before us at the moment is the building of a reality," Kouchner told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published yesterday. "France is training Palestinian police, businesses are being created in the West Bank... It follows that one can envision the proclamation soon of a Palestinian state, and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before negotiating its borders."

"If by mid-2011, the political process has not ended the [Israeli] occupation, I would bet that the developed state of Palestinian infrastructure and institutions will be such that the pressure will force Israel to give up its occupation," he added.