Palestinian leader appeals for EU help to end occupation

AP News
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Posted: Jun 23, 2016 9:46 AM
Palestinian leader appeals for EU help to end occupation

BRUSSELS (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed Thursday to the European Union for help to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and support for a lasting peace agreement.

"You are our friends, help us," Abbas told EU lawmakers in Brussels. "Israel has turned our country into an open-air prison."

"Why is international law not being applied in the case of Israel?" Abbas said to applause.

He also argued that the occupation was only encouraging extremists and fomenting terrorism.

The EU has promised an "unprecedented package" of political and economic support to both sides should they reach a final agreement, amid a new European push to help end the long-running conflict.

Visiting Brussels at the same time as Abbas, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin expressed disappointment that the Palestinian leader has "refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders, and turns again and again to support of the international community."

"We can talk directly and find a way to build confidence," Rivlin told reporters, after talks with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Rivlin's office said that the EU had offered to set up a meeting with Abbas while both men were in Brussels. But Palestinian officials said they had turned that suggestion down.

One Palestinian official said Abbas rejected the offer because Rivlin, whose position is largely ceremonial, does not speak on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.

Abbas' address to the European Parliament came as the international community is searching for ways to revive peace talks.

The last round of U.S.-led talks collapsed two years ago amid deep disagreements over the terms of Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. While the international community has backed the Palestinian position, Netanyahu refuses to accept Israel's pre-1967 lines as the basis for a future border.

With the gaps so wide and Netanyahu's government dominated by hard-liners opposed to Palestinian independence, the Palestinians say there is no point in returning to the negotiating table.