The European Union has reaffirmed its belief in a negotiated settlement to create a Palestinian state, rejecting recent unilateral US and Israeli policy statements.
EU foreign ministers on Saturday found little to praise in US President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to keep various illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Following two days of talks in Ireland, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten condemned Bush's foreign policy "bombshell".
He warned that the world community had to repair "an awful lot of damage" arising from a US reversal announced on Wednesday.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier warned Bush to
"respect" Europe, saying that the quartet for a roadmap peace settlement was just that - a quartet.
The roadmap is a peace plan endorsed by the United States, the EU, the United Nations and Russia.
Right to return
The bloc also played down Bush and Sharon's contention that Palestinian refugees driven out of their homes when Israel was created in 1948 had no right to return.
EU ministers recalled that the bloc "will not recognise any change to the pre-1967 borders [created by the Six Day War] other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties".
"The Union emphasises that no declared views on the possible shape of a final settlement can pre-empt the negotiation of that settlement."
[The EU] "will not recognise any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties".
EU foreign policy statement
The ministers' statement affirmed "its belief that the roadmap represents the only route" to achieving a peaceful settlement.
End of roadmap?
Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, who chaired the EU meeting, said the quartet meeting could revive a process that has flagged badly.
"Let's hope that we are now facing an opportunity for the
quartet to work together to begin a process which sees the roadmap become a reality," he said.
But Patten underlined that fences had to be mended after this week's volte-face by Bush.
He said many Palestinians now believed "that their aspirations
for a two-state solution have been knocked on the head".
However the statement did welcome any Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - provided the pull-out was orderly, negotiated, formed part of the roadmap plan and did not leave a "political vacuum".
The EU concluded that negotiations on a lasting peace in the Middle East should be agreed between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves "and must not be prejudged".