Halevy was not convinced. “We are somewhat surprised by the timing of this,” he said. “It could be construed as an attempt to influence deliberations during the visit of our prime minister to Washington.”The Commission paper notes that in spite of EU economic aid worth 1.7 billion ecu to the Palestinian Authority since the start of the peace process, Palestinian gross national product has declined by 35%, unemployment has doubled and private investment has plummeted.Marín claimed that this was due in part to “a series of measures put into practice by Israel to seal off the Palestinian territories from the outside world”. This made it difficult for the Commission to justify further aid to the region, he said, adding: “The problem the Commission has is that the programme comes to an end this year. Will it be extended for another five years?”Although EU assistance had helped to keep the peace process alive, Marín warned that without economic growth in the territories run by the Palestinian Authority it would be impossible to foster long-term reconciliation.Halevy acknowledged that EU financial aid had been useful, but stressed that it was directed only towards the Palestinians and was supplemented by substantial Israeli funds. He firmly rejected any suggestion that Israel should open its bordersin pursuit of long-term economic development. “This would mean sacrificing lives in an effort to bring about economic improvement,” he said.He also dismissed the Commission paper’s suggestion that Europe could help Israel protect its security. “This is not what Israel is asking for,” said Halevy. “Besides, this is not something which the Union is even capable of contributing to.” Israel’s ambassador to the EU Ephraim Halevy said the document published last week demonstrated a severe “misunderstanding” of the peace process and the EU’s role within it. “The approach should not be ‘how can the Union have a role?’ but ‘does the EU have something valid to contribute to both sides?’,” said Halevy. “We believe this should be a free negotiation between the parties, without outside participation except at their request.”Mediterranean Affairs Commissioner Manuel Marín has insisted that the collapse of the Palestinian economy and region-wide instability “should lead us to consider more active participation in the peace negotiations”.This latest storm between the EU and Jerusalem follows the surprise publication of the Commission paper a month after it was unanimously adopted by the institution. Marín claimed the delay resulted from the document’s extreme sensitivity, but said last week that he “could not wait any longer before raising the matter openly”. Marín’s move also surprised some EU governments, which have yet to receive an official copy of the paper. One UK official described the report as “naïve”, stressing it was “a Commission, not an EU paper”.The Commissioner will present the paper to foreign ministers at their meeting on Monday (26 January), but substantial discussions are not expected until the following month.