Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

EU takes sidelines at Middle East summit

AP , BRUSSELS

The EU goes to next week's Middle East peace conference in the US ready to back up an agreement with financial aid, recognizing that without giving Palestinians hope for improved living standards, a political settlement will remain out of reach.

The EU, which will be represented by its key Middle East envoys and a number of foreign ministers, is expected, however, to take a back seat to the US in the diplomatic drive to restart a peace process between Israeli and the Palestinians.

The conference takes place Monday through Wednesday in Annapolis, Maryland, and Washington.

"The European Union is a bit on the sidelines for this process. The idea is for the United States to get the two key players together," said Alfred Pijpers, a senior researcher at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute for International Relations.

"The European Union will be of great help for financing, and technical assistance and investments and so on, but as far as the direct, so-called peace process is concerned, at this moment I don't see a very immediate and direct activity from the EU side," he said by telephone from Amsterdam on Wednesday.

The EU is the Palestinians' largest aid donor. This year, the EU and its 27 member nations gave close to 1 billion euros (US$1.48 billion), most of it in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians.

This week, the EU foreign ministers endorsed steps to support any peace moves emerging from the Annapolis conference, which will also be attended by delegations from Arab nations. The steps were outlined in a report written by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, and Javier Solana, the EU security affairs chief.

The report makes clear EU aid will be made available for practical purposes: money and technical assistance to boost the Palestinian police force and to reform the Palestinians' health, education and judiciary departments.

Also on offer from the EU is yet unspecified economic assistance aimed at stoking economic growth while continuing humanitarian aid to both West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians.

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