It still remains very much my conviction that the continuing Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and the growth of illegal settlements on occupied lands represent the major obstacles to securing political progress in the Middle East peace process. I have visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in recent weeks and had an opportunity to see for myself the direct impact of the occupation on the Palestinian population, particularly on the West Bank. My visit to the proposed new E1 settlement on the fringes of east Jerusalem was particularly instructive in that regard.
In my subsequent discussions with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Lieberman, I made clear how continued settlement expansion and a failure to take decisive action to end the blockade of Gaza were only extending the conflict and reducing the prospects for meaningful substantive peace talks getting under way, peace talks which I had also been assured by the Prime Minister were also very much their objective.
I believe both sides remain committed to a negotiated settlement and equally recognise that there is no alternative to direct negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive and honourable peace deal. The challenge, as ever, for all concerned with promoting peace in the Middle East, is how to fashion the appropriate environment and climate of confidence to allow serious peace negotiations to get under way. What are most urgently required are positive confidence building measures, particularly on the part of Israel, to instil the necessary confidence that real progress could be achieved, were substantive peace talks to resume. I urged the Prime Minister to come forward with such a package of confidence building measures as soon as possible.
No one is under any doubt that the prospects for achieving a viable two-state solution are fast diminishing. I remain determined to continue highlighting, with EU and international partners, all the pertinent issues relating to the ongoing Israeli occupation and impress on both sides the need for these dramatic gestures and acts of political will which would help to substantially transform the current depressing situation.