palestinian police
Palestinian Authority police officers stand guard in the West Bank [File]. (photo credit:REUTERS)

In rare public criticism of the Palestinian Authority, the EU’s foreign ministers issued conclusions Monday on the Middle East peace process and called on the PA to “take greater responsibility” for the Gaza Strip.

“The EU calls on the Palestinian factions to make reconciliation and the return of the PA to Gaza a top priority,” said the statement, issued after a meeting of the 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels. “The PA must take greater responsibility in this regard and assume its government function in the Gaza Strip, including in the field of security, civil administration and through its presence at the Gaza crossing points.”

The PA has come under criticism – including from Israel – for not doing significantly more to reassert its authority in Gaza, even if only at the border crossing points.

Israeli diplomatic officials looking at the EU statement, which to a large extent repeated elements written following previous EU Foreign Affairs Council meetings, said that one of the positive elements from Israel’s perspective was praise for “recent steps taken by Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza.”

However, the statement read, “further positive measures are now needed that enable the full delivery of humanitarian aid, reconstruction and economic recovery on a permanent basis.”

Among the negative elements from Israel’s point of view was the statement’s calling specifically on Israel to halt plans to take down illegally built structures in the Palestinian village of Sussiya. The statement called such a move the “forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure.”

Likewise, the statement – as always – slammed the settlements, as well as Israeli building in east Jerusalem, which it said “seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states.”

The statement also reaffirmed the EU’s “commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products” – code for labeling settlement products.

Although this is not the first time this was mentioned in the council’s conclusions, the sense in Jerusalem is that this is something that – despite Israel’s objections – may soon become operational.

What the statement did not do was to break any dramatic new ground on the diplomatic process, nor endorse the apparently now-fading French idea of introducing a resolution to the UN Security Council that would not only set firm parameters to a two-state solution, but also a timeline for its implementation.

The conclusions did, however, give a boost to one aspect of the French idea: establishment of an international support group to help shepherd through a diplomatic process.

“Securing a just and lasting peace will require an increased common international effort,” the statement read, adding that the “establishment of an international support group is a possible way to contribute to this end.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius raised the issue of an international support group during his visit to Israel in June.

Though not clearly defined, the idea is for establishment of a group that will not only include the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – but also some other European and Arab states with the aim of helping the two sides narrow gaps in negotiations.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post