French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at the weekend highlighted the fact that there will be no European presence when the Israelis and Palestinians restart direct peace negotiations in Washington Thursday.
Kouchner said it was "too bad" that Europe had apparently been locked out of the renewed peace talks, considering how actively his and other European nations had been involved in the process up until now.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton responded via a spokesperson that her office was less concerned about who is sitting at the table with the Israelis and Palestinians than it is with a successful outcome.
For many observers, Ashton's response seemed to be an effort to save face, as it is odd and breaking with recent tradition for Europe to not be represented at the talks.
Israelis, however, are likely to be pleased with that development. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that he was entering the talks without preconditions, and would not accept any preconditions for continuing the negotiations.
Washington has more or less lined up with Netanyahu's position. But the Middle East Quartet comprised of the US, EU, UN and Russia has lined up with the Palestinians in insisting that Israel formally extend its Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for the talks continuing.
If Europe had been invited to the talks, it could be interpreted by the Palestinians as an endorsement of their Quartet-backed preconditions.
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