TEL AVIV, Israel – During a visit to the Jewish state Thursday, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Israel's West Bank separation barrier violates international conventions and would be just as effective if built on Israeli territory.
Javier Solana's (search) comments came two days after the 25-nation EU infuriated Israeli leaders by supporting a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on Israel to tear down the barrier in compliance with a world court ruling.
"We have respect for the right of the country to construct a fence in its own territory but we do think that the route that the fence has taken is not one that is compatible with international law," Solana said during a joint news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search).
In a meeting with Solana, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) said it would be difficult for Israel to involve Europe in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process "in light of its one-sided positions regarding Israel's security problems."
Shalom said Israel was "deeply disappointed" in Europe.
"The EU should be engaged in promoting Palestinian reform in Gaza and Ramallah, not Palestinian manipulation in the U.N.," Shalom said.
A planned meeting between Solana and Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert (search) was canceled at the request of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an Olmert spokeswoman said. Another Solana meeting with Minister of Justice Joseph Lapid (search) also was canceled.
Israel has long accused the European Union of being unbalanced and has pushed the bloc to the sidelines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts.
Earlier this month, Sharon refused to meet with the so-called Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — envoys from the United States, Europe, the United Nations and Russia. Sharon's spokesman said at the time that Israel would not discuss peacemaking or security issues with Europe.
Solana and Shalom met for an hour before the news conference amid an atmosphere of rising tensions between Israel and Europe. Israeli media reported that Israel blamed France for persuading EU countries to support the resolution.
Israeli-French relations took a hit earlier this week when Sharon urged Jews in France to emigrate to Israel to escape a wave of anti-Semitism. French President Jacques Chirac said Sharon would not be welcome in Paris until he explained his comments.
Israel says the string of fences, walls and barbed wire that will eventually stretch 425 miles keeps out suicide bombers. Palestinians say the construction of the barrier is a land grab since it cuts into the West Bank at several points.
"The security of Israel and the protecting of the Israeli people is something we have always supported and we'll continue to support," Solana said. "I know that the fence has saved many lives but it would have saved as many lives if it would have been constructed inside Israel."
Israel's Foreign Ministry summoned European ambassadors for consultations Wednesday to express Israel's displeasure over the Europe's position.
Shalom said Israel had hoped the meetings with Solana would focus on improving Israeli-European relations. They were redirected because of the nonbinding U.N. resolution Tuesday calling on Israel to take down the barrier. That vote echoed a nonbinding ruling this month by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.