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Israel Questions EU's Role as Peacemaker in Middle East - 2004-07-22

Israel chastised the European Union on Thursday, saying it doubted whether it could be seen anymore as an honest broker in the Middle East. The harsh statement came in reaction to the decision of EU representatives to vote for the U.N. General Assembly resolution against Israel's controversial West Bank security barrier.

Israel's Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, said on Thursday that it is difficult for him to convince Israelis that the European Union is a partner that can be trusted in Middle East peacemaking.

Mr. Shalom made the statement after a meeting with the visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The Israeli minister's remark came just hours after other Israeli officials said they were considering banning EU officials from any further forums aimed at ending the conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel, which says the West Bank barrier is necessary to stop Palestinian terrorism, is furious that EU states voted this week in favor of the U.N. General Assembly resolution against the project.

The resolution came in response to an advisory decision of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which declared the security barrier illegal and called for it to be torn down.

Mr. Solana said Thursday that European Union states backing of the U.N. General Assembly resolution should not surprise anyone.

He said that the European Union made it clear some time ago that it opposes the barrier because it is being built inside the West Bank, causing hardship to Palestinians.

Mr. Solana said the European Union respects Israel's right to self-defense and respects the right of every country to build a fence on its own territory. He said a route through occupied territory is not compatible with international law.