Inspired by Iran deal, EU seeks coalition to revive Mideast peace push

By Robin Emmott

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Inspired by Europe's role in a nuclear deal with Iran, the European Union wants to form a broader, U.N.-backed coalition to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Taking up a French proposal, EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday to try to create an "international support group" more than a year after the collapse of a U.S.-brokered peace push envisaging a Palestinian state co-existing with Israel. The EU wants to open the door to more countries to get involved.

"This week tells us that diplomacy in the long run can deliver," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said, referring to the July 14 deal in which Iran agreed to curb its disputed nuclear program in return for an end to sanctions.

The EU foreign ministers' plan envisages obtaining formal approval for the so-called support group at the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September, then a U.N. Security Council resolution to set parameters for a peace deal.

Part of the reason for seeking an international coalition is the deep internal divisions within the 28-nation EU over Middle East policy that limit its ability to take an active role.

Participants in the Iran nuclear accord were world powers Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany. EU diplomats see a chance to involve many more countries than those in the Middle East Quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - that has promoted Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with little practical effect.

Under the EU proposal, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the larger European economies including Spain and Italy, and Arab nations could play a bigger role.

Mogherini, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May, sees a chance for EU diplomacy in the absence of a new diplomatic initiative from Washington as President Barack Obama approaches the end of his final term.

While the central players in the nuclear negotiations were Iran and the United States, senior EU officials played a central role in mediating negotiations, becoming the unsung heroes of the deal and giving EU diplomats confidence to do more abroad.

"The (Israeli-Palestinian) peace process is at a standstill. The situation is bad. Europe should help both parties to take steps to overcome the impasse," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has expanded settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich)