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entries tagged with: European Union


The EU throws a monkey wrench in Mideast peacemaking


A roadblock bigger than any settlement


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.



Reaction mixed to announcement on easing of Gaza blockade

On Monday, the day after Israel announced that it was easing the Gaza blockade, an Israeli truck driver walks by trucks filled with goods bound for Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90/JTA

JERUSALEM – Israel’s decision to loosen its blockade of Gaza is drawing both praise and criticism.

Israel’s security cabinet voted on Sunday to ease land-based civilian imports to the Gaza Strip; the naval blockade will remain in place.

The move garnered praise from the White House, which released a statement Sunday saying it welcomed the new policy toward Gaza.

“Once implemented, we believe these arrangements should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza while preventing the entry of weapons,” the statement said. “We strongly re-affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, and our commitment to work with Israel and our international partners to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.”

Turkey, which lost nine citizens when Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla determined to break the blockade, continued to slam Israel following the announcement.

“If the Israeli government really wishes to prove that they have given up the act of piracy and terror, they should primarily apologize and claim responsibility in the slaying of nine people on May 31,” said Egemen Bagis, Turkish minister for European Union affairs, according to The New York Times.

The blockade of Gaza was put into place by Israel and Egypt in June 2007 after Hamas violently wrested power in the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. It was designed to thwart the import of weapons or weapons-capable material into Gaza and pressure the coastal strip’s rulers into releasing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid in 2006.

An economic blockade had been in place since Shalit’s abduction.

Pressure on Israel to ease the latter blockade, which had been climbing steadily, increased dramatically following last month’s Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening to announce the easing of the blockade, reportedly played a central role in establishing the new protocols for Gaza. The Quartet — a grouping of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia — issued a statement after Israel’s announcement calling for its rapid implementation and an easing of the conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Under the new rules, all items except those on a published blacklist will be allowed into Gaza. Until now, only items specifically permitted were allowed into Gaza. The blacklist will be limited to weapons and war materiel, including “dual-use items” that can be used for civilian or military purposes. Construction materials for housing projects and projects under international supervision will be permitted, according to a statement issued by Israel’s security cabinet.

The plan also calls for increasing the volume of goods entering Gaza and opening up more crossings, as well as streamlining the movement of people to and from the strip for medical treatment.

Despite the easing of the land blockade, Israel will continue to inspect all goods bound for Gaza by sea at the port of Ashdod.

Israel called on the international community “to stop the smuggling of weapons and war materiels into Gaza.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague praised Israel’s plan but took a wait-and-see attitude.

“The test now is how the new policy will be carried out,” he said.

German officials called for a complete end to the blockade in the wake of Israel’s refusal to allow Germany’s minister of economic cooperation and development, Dirk Niebel, to enter Gaza during a four-day visit to the region.

For their part, Hamas officials said the easing of the blockade was not good enough to relieve the distress of the Gaza population. They called the changes “cosmetic,” according to Ynet.

In Israel, the announcement received mixed reviews. Some lawmakers, including ones from the centrist Kadima Party and the center-left Labor Party, criticized the government for buckling under pressure, saying the move would strengthen Hamas. But others, such as Labor’s Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, praised it. Arab-Israeli Knesset member Hanin Zoabi called it insufficient, saying the blockade should be lifted completely.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the French news agency AFP that the blockade should be abolished altogether.

“These steps alone are not sufficient,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said, “and all efforts must be exerted to ease the suffering of the people of Gaza.”



Japan agonistes

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