RAMALLAH, West Bank, July 10 (UPI) -- Re-launching Palestinian-Israeli peace process remains a "strategic priority" for the European Union, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says.
Barroso, speaking in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank Sunday, said the EU is determined not to let the Palestinians' struggle to establish an independent state be moved to the back-burner as the world's attention is diverted to Syria and the upheavals of the Arab Spring.
"Lately, international attention has been focused on other countries in the region," Barroso said. "However the momentous change that we are witnessing throughout the Arab World should constitute an incitement and not a deterrent to the resumption of negotiations.
"The Middle East Peace Process cannot become an orphan of the Arab Spring."
Appearing with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Barroso made the remarks at the start of a visit to the Middle East which began in Cyprus -- which assumed the rotating EU presidency July 1 -- and was also to include a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Barroso said the EU remains unalterably committed to a two-state solution that would see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living peacefully side-by-side with Israel.
He vowed to keep working for that goal along with fellow mediators the United Nations, the United States and Russia, known collectively as the Quartet on the Middle East.
"We will continue with our efforts, within the Quartet, to facilitate contacts between the parties and to resume substantive talks," he said. "In this context, it is important that both sides support confidence building measures to re-launch the peace process."
The EU president also expressed his disapproval of the "continuous growth of (Israeli) settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem," asserting, "it is important that the two parties do not act in a way that undermines the viability of a two-state solution."
The remarks came two days after the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed a fact-finding mission to investigate Israel's West Bank settlement activity and its effects on the Palestinian people.
UNHRC President Laura Lasserre Dupuy appointed Christine Chanet, Unity Dow and Asma Jahangir to carry out a probe "to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory."
Israel denounced the move as biased, declaring it wouldn't cooperate with the U.N. agency.
"The fact-finding mission will find no cooperation in Israel and its members will not be allowed to enter Israel and the territories," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Jerusalem Post. "Its existence embodies the inherent distortion that typifies the UNHRC treatment of Israel and the hijacking of the important human rights agenda by non-democratic countries."
The Oxfam International anti-poverty group last week claimed Israel's "requisitions and expropriations of Palestinian land" for Jewish settlements in the Jordan River Valley are undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state, calling on Barroso to make the issue a priority during his Middle East visit.
The EU leader also said he welcomed progress in Palestinian factional reconciliation talks between Hamas, rulers of Gaza, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank.
The two side have agreed to resume the negotiations this month in Egypt in a bid to pave the way for new elections.
"I ... welcomed signs of more concrete progress on Palestinian reconciliation," Barroso said. "This is a key factor contributing to the unity of a future Palestinian State and to reaching the two-state solution."
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