The President of the European Union (EU) announced in a statement
Wednesday evening that Israel should commit to restarting the Middle
East peace process by freeing the dozens of Palestinian lawmakers and
ministers that Israeli forces seized from their homes over the past
several months, and by putting an end to Israeli settlement expansion
on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank.

"Members of the Palestinian parliament must be released unconditionally," said Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja in a meeting with EU officials in Strasbourg.

Israeli forces seized 64 Hamas officials, including eight ministers and 29 members of parliament during a major campaign against the ruling Hamas party, which was democratically elected in January.  Twenty-eight Palestinian deputies, including parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik and five ministers remain in Israeli detention.

In addition, the EU President criticized Israeli plans for expansion of illegal colonies they have established in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank territory.  "The presidency of the European Union is disturbed at the news that the Israeli government has solicited tenders for the construction of 690 new housing units in the West Bank," the presidency said in a statement.

The 25-member bloc urged the Israeli government to cancel the building licenses, "and to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth of settlements," as stipulated in the roadmap peace agreement of 2000.

Settlement expansion onto occupied Palestinian land has been a mainstay of Israeli policy since a 1993 agreement known as the 'Oslo Accords' gave Israel control of nearly half the West Bank.  Though the move was meant as a temporary measure that would lead to full Palestinian control of the whole of the West Bank within five years, Israeli officials took the agreement as a mandate to expand West Bank settlements, and over 300,000 Israelis have been transferred to settlements built on the occupied territory since 1993.  A total of 450,000 Israelis currently live illegally in settlements on stolen Palestinian land, 200,000 of them in East Jerusalem.

The current Israeli leadership has pledged to maintain all existing settlements, and annex the illegally-seized land to establish new borders for the Israeli state, and isolating the remaining Palestinian land in the West Bank into walled-in enclaves.