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European Parliament approves trade accord with Palestinians

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STRASBOURG, France, April 14 (JTA) — The European Parliament has approved a trade and cooperation accord between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement passed by an overwhelming majority, with 372 members of the European Union’s legislative body voting in favor and five against. There were four abstentions. While the agreement covers economic issues, diplomatic sources here say its true significance is political, because it reflects the European Union’s desire for closer ties with the Palestinian Authority. E.U. officials have sought an enhanced role in the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian Authority has welcomed the E.U. initiative, but Israeli officials have been wary, citing what they say is Europe’s pro-Arab bias. The accord, which was signed in February in Brussels by Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, covers a five-year period and offers enhanced economic cooperation, including reduced tariffs for Palestinian exports to E.U. member-states. Under the accord, the Palestinians are recognized as full partners of the European Union. Several Mediterranean countries, including Israel, have similar association accords with the 15-member European Union. The Palestinian Authority and European Union will begin negotiating no later than May 1999 on a full association agreement to replace the current interim accord. The European Union has been the leading financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority. European aid has gone to education, infrastructure development and the administration of the Palestinian self-rule areas.

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