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entries tagged with: Catherine Ashton


EU ‘concludes’ that Israel must step up peace pace

European relations with Israel have taken a hit since the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, shown with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Nov. 23. Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – The new European Union document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being interpreted in Jerusalem as a warning to the Israelis: Do more to restart stalled peace talks or face mounting pressure from Europe.

The document, published as a set of “conclusions,” was the result of a Swedish initiative to have the European Union recognize eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state — and part of a new strategy the Palestinians have been pressing in a bid to have the international community impose solutions on key issues of conflict with Israel, including borders and Jerusalem.

News Analysis

Israel was able to block the gambit this time, at least partially, arguing that recognizing East Jerusalem now as the Palestinian capital would prejudge the outcome of peace talks and make a Palestinian return to the negotiating table even less likely.

In the end, the European Union adopted a French draft highlighting the need for mutual agreement.

“If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states,” the final EU text read.

Nevertheless, the wording still suggests having part of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital — a position the Israeli government rejects. Other parts of the document reflect European unease with Israel’s policies under Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. And Israeli actions in and around eastern Jerusalem are strongly criticized.

Although the conclusions take “positive note” of Netanyahu’s “partial and temporary” freeze on settlement building, they go on to urge Israel “to immediately end all settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the rest of the west bank and including natural growth, and to dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001.”

The conclusions reflect an erosion in Israel’s relations with the European Union in the wake of last winter’s Gaza war, the subsequent collapse of peace talks, and Netanyahu’s election in the spring as prime minister.

The EU conclusions come as the organization sets out to revamp its foreign policy structure in an attempt to gain added clout on the world stage. Starting Jan. 1, Catherine Ashton, in the EU’s newly created position of high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, will be in charge rather than the foreign minister of whatever EU country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

The aim is to give European policy greater coherence and consistency. The result could give the European Union more power to exert pressure on Israel down the road.

Additional “conclusions” could be even less to Israel’s liking. With a more coherent foreign policy leadership, the European Union could coordinate moves more closely with the United States and exert greater influence on the international Quartet, all adding to pressure on Israel.

While not as significant as U.S. influence, European influence has not been negligible. Oded Eran, who served as ambassador to the European Union from 2002 to 2007, says the Europeans often have served as a bellwether for the rest of the international community. He noted that they were the first to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination in the 1980 Venice Declaration and the first to talk about recognition of Palestinian statehood 19 years later in Berlin.

Now, Eran says, the EU is taking the lead on making East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital.

“If you look at the precedents, all those who are against any compromise in the city should be worried,” said Ran Curiel, Israel’s ambassador to the European Union.

Nevertheless, Curiel insists that if the Europeans want to play a role in Middle East peacemaking, they will have to start taking Israeli concerns into account.

“They keep saying they want to be a global player. But if Europe wants to be heard, it will have to reach out to Israeli public opinion and show that it understands Israeli dilemmas and sensitivities, and not only those of the Palestinians,” Curiel told JTA.

Israeli experts such as Eran do not expect EU attempts at economic pressure. On the contrary, with trade volume of $40.3 billion last year with Israel, the European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner; the United States takes a close second with $36.8 billion. Eran doesn’t expect those numbers to change as a result of politics.

“Both sides have learned to distinguish between political positions and ongoing trade, and I doubt whether even countries like Sweden would back economic sanctions against Israel,” Eran said.

The bottom line is that although economic pressure is unlikely, unless Israel is able to revive a credible peace process with the Palestinians, it could well find Europe using the Middle East as the place it spreads its new foreign policy wings.



Pressure mounts on Palestinians to abandon U.N. statehood gambit

An Arab man passes graffiti in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90/JTA

JERUSALEM – The pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to back down from plans to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September is intensifying.

Squeezed by a combination of concerted American pressure and intense Israeli diplomacy, some top Palestinian leaders are urging the Palestinian Authority’s president to drop his September plan.

Abbas, however, says he still intends to go ahead with the U.N. move, unless key international players can get serious peace talks going before then.

A pro-Western wing of the Palestinian leadership, led by P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and including former Palestinian envoy to the U.N. Nasser al-Kidwa, is advising Abbas to drop the U.N. initiative mainly for the sake of good relations with the United States.

They also fear that a U.N. resolution that fails to change anything on the ground could spark a new cycle of violence and retaliation, destroying years of state-building achievements, especially in the Palestinian economy and security forces.

To soften U.S. opposition, Palestinian supporters of the U.N. gambit, like Abbas and his chief negotiators Saeb Erakat and Nabil Shaath, are proposing sending an accompanying letter to the U.N. recognizing Israel in the 1967 borders and committing to resume negotiations immediately on a state-to-state basis. That, however, is unlikely to cut much ice.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has launched a worldwide campaign against U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state, instructing Israeli embassies across the globe to leave no stone unturned. Even in countries considered lost causes, diplomats have been ordered to do all they can to turn things around.

The aim of the intense Israeli diplomatic activity is twofold: first, to prevent the Palestinians from winning a two-thirds majority in the 192-member General Assembly. Then, if that fails, at least to win what Israeli officials are calling a “moral minority” — in which most Western countries, with their moral authority as democracies, vote against recognition of a Palestinian state.

“There is no possible configuration in which Israel wins the vote,” a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told JTA. “But if we can get that ‘moral minority,’ then the resolution will be reduced to nothing more than another U.N. anti-Israel piece of paper.”

As part of the campaign to win over the European democracies, Netanyahu has been warning European leaders that a U.N. resolution that enshrines the 1967 borders will kill off the peace process.

He argues that no Palestinian leader will be able to accept anything less, undermining the long-accepted principle that in any peace treaty the 1967 lines will have to be modified.

“It will have the same effect as the 1948 U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 had on the refugee issue,” the Netanyahu aide insisted, referring to the resolution that stipulated that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to home should be permitted to do so, and that compensation should be paid to those who do not.

“Everyone understands that in a peace treaty Palestinian refugees will return to Palestine, not to Israel,” the aide said. “But because of 194, you have a situation in which no Palestinian leader is ready to say so in public.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman goes further. In a mid-June meeting in Jerusalem with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, he warned that if the Palestinians made a unilateral approach to the United Nations, they would be in violation of the Oslo agreements, and Israel would no longer consider itself bound by them. Lieberman was picking up on the opinions of several leading Israeli legal experts, including former foreign ministry legal adviser Alan Baker.

Baker, who was closely involved with the Oslo negotiations, claims that by trying to get the international community to unilaterally impose Palestinian positions on Israel, the Palestinians are in breach of the 1995 Oslo interim agreement, which set up the Palestinian Authority and its presidency and parliament on the understanding that all remaining differences would be resolved through negotiations.

“The Palestinian approach to the U.N. violates the interim agreement and, in so doing, undermines the legal basis of the P.A. and all the other Palestinian institutions, creating the potential for legal chaos,” Baker told JTA.

Israel’s legal and diplomatic arguments have apparently struck a chord in some European capitals. Germany, Italy, and the European Parliament have all made their opposition to a unilateral Palestinian U.N. move clear.

Clearly, Abbas is trying to use the specter of September as a stick to get a resumption of peace talks on his terms. But as long as Hamas is part of the Palestinian government, the chances of talks being renewed are slim.

And unless Abbas is persuaded to back down at the 11th hour, the diplomatic battle is more likely to shape up over what comes next: Does U.N. recognition of Palestine isolate Israel, or does it backfire and leave the Palestinians worse off than before?

JTA Wire Service

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