By Herb Keinon
Jerusalem Post

Kassam rocket fire on Sderot is another sign that the Israelis and Palestinians need to “sit down and talk and go for a long-lasting peace,” European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has told The Jerusalem Post.

Responding to the oft-heard argument that any European country faced with a constant rocket barrage on one of its cities would respond with great military force, Ferrero-Waldner said that “at a certain moment everyone would understand that one has to sit down and talk and go for long lasting peace; this is the only argument that really counts.” She said that if this were not done, “it would be horrible here and horrible there, and this is our European understanding. We would like to assist both of you as much as we can and be an objective partner.”

When asked with whom Israel should sit and talk, she said, “absolutely with [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas.” Ferrero-Waldner, who left Israel after two days of talks focused on the Quartet-backed “funding mechanism” designed to channel international aid into the PA while bypassing the Hamas-led government, met Abbas and said he is “the elected president and also a man of peace. He has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and always speaks about the roadmap and about Oslo, and he wants to talk with Israel. I think this is the right moment to do it.”

Regarding whether she feels Abbas was now in a position to implement anything agreed upon in negotiations, she responded, “I think he can, and you have to give him the chance to show that.” Ferrero-Waldner praised Abbas for his referendum idea on the so-called prisoners’ document that calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital, and a “return of refugees” to their homes.

She said that although the EU doesn’t agree with all eighteen points of the document, “it is a step forward.” She made clear, however, that even were Hamas to accept this document, it would not mean that they had accepted the international community’s benchmarks for legitimacy: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and accepting previous agreements with Israel.

She said that a Palestinian referendum on this issue, or acceptance of the document by Hamas, could lead to a new government in the PA that could then live up to the international benchmarks for acceptance. She said it was too early to say whether the EU would fund such a referendum.

Ferrero-Waldner reiterated that she viewed Prime Minster Ehud Olmert’s realignment plan as “a bold and courageous step because it entailed removing settlers,” but also added that a long lasting peace could only be reached through a negotiated settlement.

Asked whether she thought disengagement from Gaza was a wise move considering that now Hamas is in power, Gaza is on the verge of chaos, and there are concerns of a major military escalation because of the constant pounding of Sderot, Ferrero-Waldner replied, “If you ask your own people to withdraw from settlements and settle elsewhere this is brave, I must say. Now I think what you have to do is make peace out of it, and I think [former Quartet disengagement envoy] Jim Wolfensohn did a very good job, but many of these things are not yet implemented. Look at the Gaza-West Bank for instance. There are quite a number of things that need to be done.”