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EU urges U.S. to join new Middle East peace effort

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers on Monday urged the United States to join a new effort to breathe life into long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but they rejected President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan as the basis for any international process.

Trump’s proposal, which was unveiled in February, would foresee the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but it falls far short of minimal Palestinian demands and would leave sizable chunks of the occupied West Bank in Israeli hands.

Speaking after chairing video talks between the ministers and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the Europeans “recognize the merit of the U.S. plan because it has created a certain momentum where there was nothing.”

“This momentum can be used to start a joint international effort of the basis of existing internationally agreed parameters,” Borrell said, referring to the need for a two-state solution, based along the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps.

“We made clear that it is important to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to engage in a credible and meaningful political process,” Borrell said. “For us, there is no other way than to resume talks.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also insisted on the need “to revive the peace process in the region and find a way for both sides to speak and negotiate with each other.”

“A multilateral format could certainly be the right framework for this, and we are prepared to support any initiative in this direction — and I would be glad if our colleague from Washington also were prepared to do this,” Maas said. No details of what the new effort might look like were provided.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he wants to move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, perhaps in early July, and Borrell said the ministers warned Pompeo about “the consequences of a possible annexation for the prospects of a two-state solution but also for regional stability.”

In recent months, the 27-nation bloc has debated whether to modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that settlement activity and U.S. diplomatic moves, like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, are undermining the chances of a two-state solution.

But while the EU is the biggest provider of aid to the Palestinians, the member countries have little obvious leverage over Israel that they would be prepared to use, and it’s unclear what action, if any, they would take should Netanyahu push ahead with his annexation plan.

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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