Photo: AFP
Jan Kohout
Photo: AFP
EU: Netanyahu speech is step in right direction
Czech FM says PM's comments need more analysis, but 'acceptance of Palestinian state is there'; Swedish FM: Speech first small step

The European Union says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's endorsement of a Palestinian state is a "step in the right direction."


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the EU presidency, said Monday that while Netanyahu's comments on Sunday needed more analysis "the acceptance of a Palestinian state is there."


Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, which will take over the EU presidency in July, called it "a small step forward".


"That's good but it's only a first step," he said ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg. "A state can't be defined as anything...the fact that he uttered the word is a small first step."


Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, when asked if Netanyahu's move was sufficient for the EU to upgrade ties with Israel, said: "No".


The 27-nation European Union has linked an unfreezing of plans to upgrade links with Israel to Netanyahu committing to negotiate a two-state accord. Officials of the bloc were due to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Luxembourg later on Monday.


In a statement, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also called Netanyahu's speech a step forward. "But to secure peace means going well beyond that, without laying down any pre-conditions to negotiations," he said.


Kouchner said the two sides should define the outlines of a new state and tackle all the major issues, including the final status of Jerusalem and the question of refugees.


He said an atmosphere of trust needed to be restored between the two sides. "In this respect, France, along with its European partners, the United States and the whole international community, demands the immediate halt to colonisation and a reopening of the Gaza border," he said.


In his address, Netanyahu backed a Palestinian state beside Israel, reversing himself under US pressure but attaching conditions such as having no army. The Palestinians swiftly rejected that.


Netanyahu also said the Palestinian state would have to recognize Israel as the Jewish state _ essentially saying Palestinian refugees must give up the goal of returning to Israel.


Obama called Netanyahu's shift on Palestinian statehood an "important step forward" but aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the speech as "sabotaging" negotiations by restating Israel's refusal to share the city of Jerusalem or accept Palestinian refugees.


Reuters contributed to this report



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