The European Union rejected requests Tuesday that it support a Palestinian plan for gaining recognition as an independent state at the U.N. Security Council without Israeli consent.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters "the conditions are not there as of yet" for such a move. "I would hope that we would be in a position to recognize a Palestinian state, but there has to be one first, so I think that is somewhat premature."
The EU's foreign ministers on Tuesday were discussing ways to coordinate with the United States to get Palestinians and Israelis back to peace talks, said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner.
"The most important thing until now is to really help the Americans bring both sides to the table," she said.
The 27-nation bloc has taken a back-seat approach to recent efforts by President Barack Obama and his special envoy for Mideast peace, George Mitchell, to restart peace talks between the two sides.
Bildt said he could understand why the Palestinians were suggesting such a move, as a way to break the current deadlock. "It is clearly an act borne by a difficult situation where they don't see any road ahead and I can understand that," said Bildt.
He reiterated EU calls that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu move to freeze all Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, a key Palestinian demand it is pushing for before it will return to negotiations.
Netanyahu, who refuses to halt settlement construction, has repeatedly urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without conditions.
Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, told reporters that moving to set up a viable Palestinian state "has to be done with time and with calm and in an appropriate moment." He added no one is "looking for that today."
Palestinian officials launched an appeal to EU countries on Monday to back their plan while the idea of seeking U.N. intervention has gained support in the Arab world, as a way to break the impasse in peacemaking.
The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967. Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but has annexed east Jerusalem and maintains a military occupation in the West Bank. Islamic Hamas militants violently wrested control of Gaza from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas loyalists in a 2007.
The Palestinian U.N. plan also has been rejected by Washington, which along with the EU backs a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Israeli government has threatened to nullify past accords with the Palestinians if they take any unilateral action.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday that any Palestinian move on independence "will be countered by a unilateral move on our part."
The Palestinians have not set a timetable for presenting a formal proposal to the Security Council. But with the backing of the Arab League, they have been lobbying U.N. member states to support such a proposal when it is submitted.