EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday as a row erupted over a controversial bill to separate Palestinian Arab and Israeli bus systems in Judea-Samaria, according to AFP.
She met the PA leader at his Ramallah headquarters at the start of a 24-hour visit to the region on her first trip to the region since a new
rightwing Israeli new government was sworn in last week.
Mogherini's aim is to discuss bilateral relations "as well as prospects for the Middle East peace process," her office said ahead of the trip.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the suspension of a controversial ban on Palestinian Arab workers riding the same buses as Jewish residents of Judea-Samaria, after years of complaints over harassment and overcrowding as well as numerous security issues had been raised over the integration. The decision came just hours after the three-month pilot project approved by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon began.
Later on Wednesday, Mogherini was to travel to Jerusalem for dinner with Netanyahu, then meet President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog on Thursday.
A European diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mogherini's aim was to sound out both sides on the prospects of reviving peace talks which collapsed in April 2014.
"She's coming to talk to Netanyahu after the formation of the new government to see what can be done in terms of the resumption of negotiations," he said. "This is just the beginning. She wants to test the ground after the formation of the new Israeli government to see what the Europeans can do. She wants to see what can be done."
During her talks with Abbas, she was expected to raise the issue of the intra-Palestinian unity deal between his Fatah movement and the rival Hamas, whose stronghold is in Gaza.
The accord was signed in April 2014 but which has largely run aground.
"The bottom line is there are no big expectations," the European source said, noting that her visit was taking place just ahead of next week's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels at which she would brief them on her trip.
Mogherini took over as foreign policy chief for the 28-nation European Union in November and visited Israel and the PA shortly afterwards, saying she wanted to make a priority of pushing forward the Middle East peace process.
She has been criticized in Israel for her vocal insistence that a two-state solution is the only way forward and for her condemnation of Israel building homes for its own people in Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria.