Ireland, the current EU president, on Friday told Israel in unequivocal terms it had to make peace with its "enemies", the Palestinians, rather than find friends in Washington.

"It remains the case that Israel has to make peace with its enemies, not its friends. Israel and the United States are not in conflict," Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said.

"Let's be clear: the discussions between the United States and Israel are no substitute for the direct negotiations that have to take place … between Palestinians and Israelis."

The criticism came in the wake of US President George Bush's public endorsement of Israel's plans to keep parts of the occupied West Bank while removing settlements from Gaza.

Ireland's Brian Cowen: Israel
must deal with the Palestinians

Bush has also said demands for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to homes in Israel, as well as a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders, were unrealistic.

EU diplomats said French President Jacques Chirac voiced what many were thinking when he branded Bush's support for the Israeli plan an "unfortunate and dangerous precedent".

Critics of the plan say Bush's support for continued Jewish settlements in the West Bank and his comments about refugees and borders runs against international law.

European concern

As EU foreign ministers arrived in the central Irish town of Tullamore during the day for a two-day meeting, serious concern was voiced over Israel's unilateral plans.

"It is deeply concerning when one party decides something that deviates from what others have agreed upon and even the United States has agreed on," Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said.

Chris Patten, the EU's external relations commissioner, said the so-called Quartet of peace sponsors – grouping the United Nations, the EU, Russia and the United States - was the only route to a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

"If you don’t involve the UN, the EU, the Russian Federation as well as the United States, there isn't going to be the political … support to get the solution we want," he said.

Another EU official said the organisation was "determined not to be left out: the Quartet allows us to keep on coming back at the Americans".