Catherine Ashton - Reuters - March 21, 2011
European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton at the end of an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels March 21, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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BRUSSELS - The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, says she is not sure that there will be a vote in the United Nations in September on recognition of a Palestinian state and that the wording of the resolution is still uncertain.

"It will depend very much on what the resolution says as to how the international community in general and EU states in particular, vote," Ashton told Haaretz in an interview this week in her office in the EU headquarters in Brussels.

Ashton said: "It's quite possible that that there could be a vote at the UN where the European Union has no difficulty in voting for that."

At this time of all times, with Greece in turmoil, the Spanish economy crashing and the political arena in France in an uproar, EU leaders, Ashton included, are deepening their involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ashton visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority about a week ago and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Before her visit to the Middle East, she sent a letter to the members of the Quartet proposing that they accept U.S. President Barack Obama's formula presenting the June 4, 1967 borders with exchanges of territory as a starting point for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ashton wrote the members - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - that the situation requires quick progress toward a solution of the conflict.

"My letter was a manifestation of an awful lot of work to try and get the Quartet principles in order so we can try and put that work that's been going on to good effect with... something from the Quartet that might be able to persuade the parties that there is enough support to get back into negotiations," Ashton said.

She said that the European Union has been making major efforts to move the negotiations ahead before the UN vote but that she believed the key was in the hands of the Quartet.

Ashton said she believed that "one of the most critical parts is not only understanding why the key issues matter so much to each, but them feeling that if they take the risk of being in negotiations, that the international community will stand with them both and see that through." That was the reason, she added, that it was important to find the framework "that enable them to start talking to each other.

When asked whether she accepted Netanyahu's opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian unity government with Hamas, which is on the European Union's list of terror organizations, Ashton said, "That's right, and that position has not changed." However, she said, "President Abbas has always made it clear that he is the president and it's with him that the negotiations will take place." She said that Abbas had stressed that the unity government would consist of technocrats whose task would be to prepare for elections in the PA.

Asked if she shared Netanyahu's belief that the turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab spring does not make for the best climate for negotiations, that developments in Syria and Libya must first be sorted out and that it is important to wait for the results of the elections in Egypt, Ashton said: "The conflict in the Middle East has been there for a long, long time. People need a solution to it on both sides, a resolution to it. And it's I think right and proper for all of us to keep at it. It doesn't mean I don't focus, and we don't focus, on trying to deal with Iran. As you know I'm a negotiator for the Iranian nuclear talks, and that is something I care deeply about. It doesn't mean that we're not engaged with Syria, where I have reports daily from our delegation that are there, and we're trying to work with Turkey and others and look for ways in which we can put the pressure on."

Ashton confirmed, in response to a question, that during her recent meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he said "something to the effect that" if the United Nations recognized a Palestinian state, Israel would declare the Oslo Accords void. "I'm not sure that it's up to him to declare that Oslo is void really," she said, adding, "I don't accept that Oslo is void, [if] so, it would be a different world."