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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 22:01 GMT
Analysis: EU split on Mid-East
A Palestinian boy runs past burning tires set up as a roadblock against Israeli tanks
Arabs have been pushing for more EU mediation
By the BBC's Rachel Harvey

The line being taken by the UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on his visit to the Middle East seems at odds with comments made recently by his European counterparts.

After talks with Israeli officials, Mr Straw urged the European Union not to break ranks with Washington in its strategy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However many European diplomats are growing increasingly uneasy about American policy regarding the Middle East.

On the face of it, Britain seems to be lining up squarely behind the United States when it comes to the troubled area.

Uncomfortable

Mr Straw said the onus was on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to stop the violence by curbing the activities of militants.

Jack Straw
Straw backed the US in saying Arafat must stop the violence

That is almost identical to recent statements from Washington.

But it is a view some European leaders find extremely uncomfortable, claiming the US position is weighted too much in favour of Israel.

The French have so far been the most outspoken.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said it was a mistake for Washington to isolate Mr Arafat and support what he called the purely repressive policy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon towards the Palestinians.

Lukewarm support

The French have instead put forward a fresh plan to end the violence, which proposes the immediate establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Palestinian boy throwing stones at an Israeli tank
EU states have failed to find a joint formula to end the violence

But the plan has received only lukewarm support from the EU.

At a meeting last week, EU countries appeared to reach a consensus that American peace efforts in the Middle East were not working, but they could not agree on the details of an initiative of their own.

Spain, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, is now working on a series of proposals which will be discussed at another meeting later this month.

In the meantime, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher arrives in Israel on Thursday, hot on the heels of Mr Straw.

With two senior European diplomats visiting the area in two days, the chances are they may not be speaking with one voice.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chris Morris in Caceres
"Europe is not yet speaking with one voice"
See also:

13 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel incursions to continue
09 Feb 02 | Europe
EU split on Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Europe
EU denies rift with US
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
UN impotence over Mid-East crisis
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Europe seeks elusive Mid-East peace
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