Summary: 26 November 2007, Brussels – This week people around the world, and especially the Middle East, are hoping that a new chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute will begin as a peace conference opens in Annapolis, Maryland. Ahead of the conference a meeting was held in the European Parliament on 20 November to prepare a joint approach from the EU's 3 main Institutions. Among steps already agreed were support for a Middle East Peace conference in 2008 and inviting the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents to address the EP.
The involvement of some many international players is a sign of how serious the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is viewed. As well as the US, the EU, Russia, the UN and G8 members will be at the Annapolis Naval Academy along with several Arab states.
The meeting in Parliament last Tuesday brought together the leaders of the Parliament's political groups, the EU's High Representative for Foreign and Security policy Javier Solana and the Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrro-Waldner.
It was chaired by Parliament's President Hans-Gert Pöttering who said that "Annapolis will mark the beginning of a process which will set the course for future developments in the Middle East". In this context he said it was important "to ensure that the EU speaks with one voice on the issue of the Middle East".
Support for 2008 Middle East Peace Conference
The meeting came against a background of strategic initiatives by the EU and the Parliament to support peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.
The most ambitious of these includes supporting a Middle East Peace Conference in spring 2008 with all parties present. Other steps include inviting the Head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to address a plenary sitting in the course of next year.
Alongside this the European Union and Parliament are committed to strengthening democracy in the region as seen by election observation missions in Palestine in 2006 and Lebanon in 2005.
Financial support and political contacts mark EU approach
Other ways of building links and trust are EP delegations to individual countries. In September a group of MEPs visited Damascus where they met senior officials and saw for themselves the strain the country faces from Iraqi refugees. From 28 October to 3 November a delegation of MEPs visited Israel to hold talks with senior officials on prospects in the region.
MEPs have also passed resolutions on the conflict, notably in July on the general Middle East situation and last October on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
This year alone the EU has given €788 million in aid to the Palestinian territories - a figure that may top €900 by the end of the year. As the EU's co-budgetary authority, the Parliament has asked for increased spending on aid for the Palestinian Territories in 2008.
Mr Pöttering visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in May to see for himself the conditions on the ground. The Parliament has just set up a working group on issues related to the Middle East.
With a view to the future President Pöttering said after the meeting that "dialogue between parliamentarians and governments on this matter will be stepped up even further in the coming months with a view to defining a joint strategy on Middle East policy".